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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Comcast CEO on the Paris Olympics, NFL Streaming, and NBA Rights

  • NBCUniversal parent also eyes resurgence in fan interest in the Olympics.
  • Company remains on the front lines of historic disruption in the media business.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There is certainly no shortage of pressing issues in front of Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts.

Already trying to steer the nation’s largest cable carrier through a period of massive media disruption and cord-cutting, Roberts is also playing a central role as NBCUniversal seeks a revival of the Olympic movement (and fan interest in it) after record-low ratings for both Tokyo in 2021 and Beijing the following year—an effort that has been challenged by months of complications in France (but that are now perhaps easing). 

NBCUniversal’s Peacock, meanwhile, recently set a U.S. online record for a livestreamed event last month with an average audience of 23 million for an NFL playoff game. The service and Comcast overall have notably been left out of a recent, sports-oriented streaming joint venture among ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery, and the NFL wild-card game is now shifting to Amazon. But Peacock is seeing a further boost from the record-setting exploits of college basketball phenom Caitlin Clark. 

Roberts spoke with Front Office Sports following Comcast’s recent Converge event in which the company unveiled a series of new technologies, including a new internet router capable of supporting hundreds of devices and using artificial intelligence to self-heal its own network. Below are excerpts from the conversation, some of which have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

The last two Olympics have been highly challenged between the COVID-19 pandemic and record-low ratings. How do you see Paris setting a different course for Comcast’s and NBCUniversal’s coverage of the Olympics, particularly in light of some operational issues in France?

We’re super excited. I’ve been over there several times. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with the mayor, president, and prime minister, and the whole country is galvanized to make this the big, post-COVID return to the Olympic stage. Will there be controversies? Inevitably. Will there be global conflict? Inevitably. There always is. But the Olympics is that opportunity for 17 days to put your arms down and celebrate humanity, and that was the original concept. So while that is a lofty goal, I really hope and believe that could happen for Paris. 

They’re super excited to do this differently, such as bringing athletes down the Seine for the opening ceremony. That’s going to be an immersive experience and really cool. We were showing demonstrations of beach volleyball at the Eiffel Tower and equestrian at Versailles. So everything we’re hoping for, we’re just keeping our fingers crossed. 

What have been your subsequent impressions of the exclusive NFL game on Peacock, and what do you see as its impact?

It exceeded every expectation that we had, both technically and the impact to Peacock. It reinforced our strategy, and I was proud that the company was the leader in taking the internet to the biggest day it ever had in the U.S. That doesn’t happen every day in your career. That was a galvanizing moment for the entire company. To say we’re going to have the biggest day in American internet history, that didn’t happen by accident. 

We asked the NFL to trust us and pitched the concept to Roger Goodell and his team. We then had to make sure the whole internet was ready, and I personally spoke to everybody from Amazon Web Services to AT&T to Verizon to Charter, and everybody in our engineering team did the same with Akamai and everybody else in the whole online bandwidth ecosystem. 

It had to work. And if it didn’t, all everybody was going to remember was that it was your game. But the fact it did work—the credit goes to a whole lot of people and not just Comcast. We took the risk, and I think it will show that Peacock got what it hoped for and then some. One way or another, sports is coming to streaming. And one way or another, our company is best positioned to participate in that. While we don’t have answers to every question, I think this is a really good thing, net, for our company. 

What is the latest on your efforts to regain NBA rights?

Nothing new on the NBA. But we’re always interested in acquiring great content, and the NBA certainly offers great content. 

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