Comcast (US)

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Comcast is America's leading cable television operator, now under the Xfinity brand, and also one of the world's biggest media owners following the acquisition of NBC Universal. That deal followed several earlier attempts to build a content offering, initially through the bolt-on of its own portfolio of cable channels. An ambitious bid to acquire Walt Disney came to nothing in 2004, but five years later the group entered talks with General Electric to acquire a controlling stake in the latter's NBC Universal subsidiary. A deal was agreed at the end of 2009, and was finally cleared by regulators at the beginning of 2011, giving Comcast management control of one of America's most famous TV networks as well as a major movie studio. Despite NBC Universal's continuing challenges, the group bought out GE's remaining stake in NBCU in 2013, more than a year earlier than expected. In Feb 2014, Comcast offered to acquire smaller rival Time Warner Cable for $45bn in a deal that would have merged the #1 and #2 cable networks in the US. Despite more than a year of negotiations with regulators, the deal was eventually abandoned in Apr 2015 after it was referred by the FCC to an administrative hearing.

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Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Sep 2016: Comcast announced plans to launch its own wireless telecoms service using its own network of 15m Wifi hotspots underpinned by bandwidth leased from Verizon. It plans to market the service only within its existing cable footprint, targeting current or potential customers with an enhanced bundle of services. The service will launch mid-2017. The company declined to disclose details of pricing, but it could potentially be free or well below the four big national carriers. Analysts (and tech giants Apple, Microsoft and Facebook) were excited by the prospect of a mobile service designed primarily for FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp calling, with traditional wireless connectivity only a secondary consideration.

Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Feb 2016: Media giant Comcast reported strong results for 2015, despite the effect of foreign exchange on its Universal Pictures division. Group revenues rose 8% to $74.5bn, but net income dipped almost 3% to $8.2bn as a result of a higher tax charge. Pretax income was up 7%. The star performer was undoubtedly Universal, where revenues soared by an extraordinary 46% on the back of megahits like Jurassic World. However, it remains a comparatively small part of the overall pie at just $7.3bn. The combined NBCUniversal unit, which also comprises network TV, cable and theme parks, was up 12% to $28.5bn; the core Comcast cable division enjoyed a more modest lift of 6% to $46.9bn.

Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Jun 2015: Ralph Roberts, who led the expansion of Comcast to become the biggest cable operator in the US, has died at the age of 95. Originally an entrepreneur in Muzak systems and men's accessories, he was one of three investors who acquired a small cable TV operator in Mississippi in the early 1960s. As chief executive, he mounted a string of acquisitions to expand the company's footprint over the next 35 years. From 1990 he was aided by his son Brian Roberts, who became president, and is now group CEO. That growth culminated in the purchase of AT&T's cable division in 2001, making Comcast the nation's #1 cable provider. Further bold moves included an attempt to acquire Walt Disney. That bid was rejected by Disney's shareholders but the Roberts had more success with General Electric, from whom they successfully acquired NBC Universal in 2011. His philosophy was partly summed up by something he said in an interview with the New York Times in 2007: "The fundamental fact is that people love television, and if you can provide them with more television, they love it even more."

Adbrands Weekly Update 7th May 2015: Comcast announced better than expected performance for 1Q, cheering those shareholders still peeved by the collapse of the group's attempted takeover of Time Warner Cable. An unexpected decline in cable TV subscribers was offset by strong growth in broadband, which delivered its strongest performance in four years. The group also revealed that, as of this month, its broadband subscriber numbers overtook basic cable TV customers for the first time. The change was seen by many as further evidence of cable-shaving and cable-cutting, as viewers trade down to less comprehensive channel packs, or cut their cable subscription altogether in favour of "over-the-top" streaming from the likes of Netflix. Profits for the quarter rose 10% to almost $2.1bn on revenues up 3% to $17.4bn.

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Apr 2015: As expected, Comcast confirmed the collapse of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable following opposition from regulators. A linked deal with Charter Communications to swap customers in selected markets was also abandoned. Though there was little overlap between Comcast and Time Warner Cable's cable footprints, the combination had been widely opposed by channel owners and streaming media suppliers because of the stranglehold a merged group would have had on supply, especially of broadband services, where it would have had 57% market share. Comcast has already clashed repeatedly with Netflix and others for allegedly throttling internet bandwidth at peak times, resulting in slow internet speeds. "Today, we move on," said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. "Of course, we would have liked to bring our great products to new cities, but we structured this deal so that if the government didn’t agree, we could walk away." Analysts are betting that Comcast's failure will prompt Charter to renew its own pursuit of Time Warner Cable. But where might Comcast turn next? With DirecTV already under offer from AT&T, it may be time to consider rival satellite broadcaster Dish, which recently launched its own broadband TV service Sling. Some analysts predict a move into the international market, and have suggested the company might be starting to look at European pay-TV operators like Murdoch-controlled Sky or John Malone's Liberty Global, which owns Virgin Media in the UK as well as several continental services.

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