With Comcast's CEO

Q. & A.

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December 06, 2006|By MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

MIAMI -- Brian L. Roberts has been called the king of cable and broadband.

As chairman and chief executive of Comcast Corp., Roberts, 47, oversees a communications empire that includes 24.1 million cable subscribers, 11 million high-speed Internet customers and 2.1 million phone customers.

Boosted by new subscribers, the company posted record results in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. Excluding gains from its recent acquisition of Adelphia Communications Corp. and a few other smaller cable systems, profit rose from $222 million in the third quarter last year to $548 million, or 26 cents per share.

Roberts attributes Comcast's success to offering consumers what they want: choices, convenience and value. The company is also reaping the rewards of years of investing in its own costly fiber-optic infrastructure, which allows Comcast's Internet speeds to zoom past those of phone companies and to provide digital phone service.

People think of Comcast as a colossal company. But it has some homespun origins. Can you tell us what those are?

We're sort of living the American dream. My father is 86 years old and lived through the Depression. When he was 40, he sold his men's belt business and men's cologne business because he was worried about new technology, which was sans-belt slacks - back in the '60s, those horrible polyester pants that didn't need belts. He had a few hundred thousand dollars and was looking to find a new business.

Two gentlemen approached him in Philadelphia and said, "We have a new idea for you. It's something called community antenna television. We have a license in Tupelo, Miss., that we are trying to sell."

In Tupelo, they couldn't get the big TV signal, which for them was out of Memphis, because it was a valley town. The idea was, you go to the top of the hill and put up a big antenna, you run a wire around the town and everybody plugs into the community antenna. That was the beginning.

My dad founded the company in 1963. He dreamed up a name for the company. He said, "Well, some day we're going to be in communications, and we're going to be in broadcast." So "com" and "cast" was born. And, 43 years later, we are the largest cable company in the world.

Recently, your company's financial performance has been pretty spectacular. Can you talk about some of the ingredients of your success?

In the last five to seven years, we've rewired almost every neighborhood with fiber optics. That's allowed us to do more than just television. What is powering last quarter is Triple Play [phone, broadband and cable TV service]. Last year, we started offering phone [service] in a few test markets and sold about 200,000 subscriptions for the year. Last week, we sold over 40,000. So, it has taken off and exceeded our expectations.

We gave guidance to Wall Street that we would sell about a million in phones this year, and we upped that guidance after six months by 40 or 50 percent. And, when people take phone, most of them also take our high-speed Internet. It's been an amazing year, and I think next year will be even better.

One of the things we hear from readers is that Comcast is the only choice they have. They worry that lack of competition will have an impact on the prices they pay and also on customer service. Can you say a few words to address those concerns?

There are 25 million Americans with satellite TV. In the last 15 years, satellite has gone from zero to 25 million customers. It's been very successful, Dish Network and DirecTV. There are choices. Every consumer has at least three options of how to get TV. If you look at local telephone, most people still have Baby Bell. In Internet, there is DSL, high-speed cable, and there is also wireless. So I think there is real competition. And what that has done is pushed our company to innovate to make our products better, faster.

Can you talk a bit about user-generated content? What is the impetus behind this?

We have two generations all living off the same television and computer. My generation and my parents' generation like to sit down and be entertained. My kids want to control. The Internet is living proof that we all want to surf and go where we want, when we want, and we all want to go somewhere different.

Secondly, technology has reached a point where the computer has crashed into the television and so you now have the ability to pause live TV. You have the ability to access a show when you want it. You also have the ability to have user-generated content appear on your PC and potentially on your TV, and so all those initiatives are things we are working on.

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