Five takeaways from the big LA Times profile of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts as his company seeks federal approval to merge with Time Warner Cable.
• He didn’t initially want to go after Time Warner Cable:
Brian Roberts’ initial reluctance to bid for Time Warner Cable was based, in part, on worries that it would be inviting trouble. He knew another big grab by Comcast would give ammunition to business rivals, consumer groups and even federal regulators who might consider stricter rules for the cable industry.
•That fear appears to be coming true. So why did Roberts agree to the takeover?
“I just looked in the mirror and said: ‘If you are going to be an innovator, and if your products are not available in L.A. and New York, then will you truly be a great company?'” Roberts said during an interview at Comcast’s gleaming headquarters, the tallest tower in Philadelphia.
• Comcast’s competition isn’t other cable companies, but other tech companies:
Comcast employs more than 1,000 software engineers, more than any other cable company.
It has embraced cloud-based technology as a way to revolutionize the cable box and make the TV-watching experience more interactive. Comcast improved its on-screen menu so customers can easily search for favorite shows and personalities. Users can switch windows to quickly find out what movies are available to buy or rent with just one click of a button.
"We took the brains out of the set-top box and put it in the cloud," Roberts said. "Having our software in the cloud gives consumers the ability to click their remote control and navigate through thousands of choices in a simple and elegant way. That's magic."
• Bill Gates helped Roberts see Comcast’s tech future:
The Microsoft Corp. co-founder was chastising cable executives during a 1997 industry dinner. Tech firms were concerned that the nation's existing cable lines would not support the dawning digital revolution. Roberts politely challenged the software billionaire, saying if Gates was so bullish on the industry, then why didn't he buy 10% of all the cable companies? A few days later, Microsoft purchased $1 billion in Comcast stock — a move that underscored the future of cable. "He basically said, 'I believe that you will have a bigger business in data someday than you do in video,'" Roberts said. "And he was right."
• Now the public is worried that Comcast is too influential in data:
Comcast has faced more opposition to its planned Time Warner Cable acquisition than it did when it took control of NBCUniversal. That's because consumer advocates fear that a bulked-up Comcast will be too powerful an Internet gatekeeper. "Comcast is cornering a market on just as important a commodity, the Internet and the flow of information," Harvard’s Susan Crawford said. "Comcast will become the information transportation company for the two coasts. Their network will pass two-thirds of American homes."
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.