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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Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Mar 2018: In an intriguing new development in the Fox-Sky takeover saga, Comcast announced a plan to buy the European satellite broadcaster outright for £22.1bn (almost $31bn), a significant increase on Sky's current valuation, and also well above the price at which Fox is offering to buy the shares it doesn't already own. Comcast's smart move provides a possible solution to the ongoing battle between Fox and UK regulators over Sky. Fox had hoped to buy the outstanding Sky shares before selling the business on to Disney, along with other assets. However that plan looks unlikely to get past regulators, which means Disney would have to accept Fox's existing 39% stake and then bid for the rest in a separate process. Comcast, on the other hand, says it would accept a minority partner in Sky - Fox in the short-term, and then Disney - so the ball is now back into Disney's court. Does it relinquish Sky to Comcast, or does it make another even higher offer of its own for the public Sky shares?
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Jan 2018: While most companies are getting an exceptional loss from the tax reform bill, others are reporting huge gains. Comcast had a one-off gain of almost $13bn, causing quarterly earnings to rise fivefold. For the year, net income more than doubled to $22.9bn on revenues up 5% to $84.5bn. On an adjusted basis, stripping out the gain, EBITDA rose 6%. The cable communications business delivered increases of around 5% in both revenues and operating profit as continuing declines in phone and cable subscribers was offset by a sharp spike in broadband customers, as well as higher prices. At the NBC Universal division, the absence of the benefits from the 2016 Olympics prompted weaker performance from broadcast and cable networks, but that was offset by exceptional numbers from filmed entertainment (revenues up 20% for the year) and theme parks (up 10%).
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Jan 2018: Streaming service Hulu keeps going from strength to strength. It scored another triumph at the Golden Globes with two big wins, including Best Drama, for The Handmaid's Tale. (Amazon won Best Comedy for The Marvellous Mrs Maizel). The enormous success of Handmaid also encouraged Hulu to release revenue and subscriber data. The company said ad revenues topped $1bn for the first time in 2017, while subscriber numbers soared by over 40% to 17m. That's still far behind Netflix (109m) and Amazon (around 90m), but it's a big encouragement to prospective majority owner Disney. If and when its acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox goes through, Disney will become the majority owner of Hulu (with 60% of equity) as well as of Sky in Europe and Star of India. The big question is what rival Comcast will do at that point. Comcast inherited NBCUniversal's one-third stake in Hulu when it acquired that group in 2013, but was forced by regulators to surrender its voting shares for a set period. That lock-out ends in September this year, at which point Comcast will regain a 30% voting stake in Hulu. Time Warner (or possibly AT&T by then) will have the remaining 10%. So what happens then? Will Hulu's junior investors accept their new senior partner's control, or will they force a sale?
Adbrands Weekly Update 14th Dec 2017: Comcast dropped out of negotiations to acquire selected assets of 21st Century Fox, citing a lack of engagement on the latter's part. That allowed Disney to seal a deal, which was announced this morning. Disney will acquire all of 21st Century Fox for $52.4bn in stock, plus the assumption of $13.7bn of Fox debt. It will keep Fox's movie and TV studio, its entertainment-based cable channels including FX and regional sports strands, and its controlling stakes in satellite broadcasters Sky and Star of India. The other units - the Fox broadcast network, Fox News cable channel, Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Big Ten Network - will be spun out to existing Fox shareholders as a separate quoted entity. Fox investors, including the Murdoch clan, would also end up with around 25% of an enlarged Disney.
Adbrands Weekly Update 2nd Nov 2017: US cable companies suffered declines across the board in subscriber numbers as the competition from streaming services and "skinny bundles" intensified. Comcast's loss of 125,000 residential and business customers was four times higher than the previous quarter, and compared to a net gain in the year ago period. Charter suffered a loss of 104,000 customers, its 6th successive decline. However both companies also saw sharp increases in the number of internet subscribers. "Our broadband business is increasingly the epicenter of our relationship with customers," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told investors.
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