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Comcast Group

Overview

This profile considers the Comcast cable television group
It covers -


  • introduction
  • evolution of the group
  • holdings
  • lenfest
  • studies

Introduction

Comcast is the third-largest US cable television operator, with revenues in 2000 of US$8.2 billion, around 30% of US cable viewers and 60,000 employees. Having made an unsuccessful US$51 billion bid for Disney in February 2004 it allied with Sony in a takeover of MGM.

As of August 2003 it claimed to be the largest US cable company, serving over 21 million customers in 41 states, with -

  • 38 million homes passed
  • over 6.3 million digital video customers
  • over 3.3 million high-speed data customers
  • over 1.3 million cable telephone customers

and being the market leader in eight of the top ten US markets (with 70% of its subscribers in the top 20 US markets).

In 2006 's assets were acquired by and Comcast and Time Warner Cable aquired the assets of Adelphia Communications Corporation, the sixth largest cable tv group prior to collapse in 2002. The deal saw Comcast gain 1.7 million additional basic subscribers, increasing its total base to approximately 23.3 million owned-&-operated customers, with a further 3.5 million subscribers through different partnerships. Time Warner Cable concurrently redeemed Comcast's 17.9% interest in Time Warner Cable Inc.; Time Warner Entertainment (TWE) redeemed Comcast's 4.7% interest in TWE.

Its corporate site is here.

Evolution of the group

Comcast began - like TCI/Liberty Media and Cablevision - in the 1960s with minor cable television operations, initially in Tupelo Mississippi. It was founded by Daniel Aaron (1926-2003), Ralph Roberts and Julian Brodsky as American Cable Systems in 1963, becoming Comcast in 1969.

It has since expanded through acquisition (nothing like deregulation, cash flow and junk bonds) to embrace subscribers in the mid-Atlantic region (northern New Jersey to northern Virginia), Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Indiana and New Mexico.

It acquired control of home shopping group QVC (characterised as "the world's leading electronic retailer"), built by former Fox Network czar Barry Diller, and currently expanding into the UK, Germany and Japan. QVC had revenue in 2000 of around US$3.5 billion and claims to reach over 84 million households. In November 2002 it absorbed AT&T Broadband in a US$47 billion plus stock deal, selling QVC to Liberty Media in September 2003 in a deal worth around US$7.9 billion.

Like its competitors the group has been expanding into content production and packaging. It has stakes in the 'entertainment networks' E! Entertainment and Style, sports and lifestyle networks such as The Golf Channel and Outdoor Life Network, and regional television networks such as the Sunshine Network.

It has a majority stake in the Philadelphia 76ers NBA team, the Philadelphia Flyers NHL franchise, several minor league baseball and hockey teams, and Philadelphia's two major indoor arenas.

Comcast's main connection with Australia is through its 2000 takeover of Lenfest Communications, which had become involved in Australia's paytv debacle.

A chronology is here.

Holdings

An indication of major holdings (most activity outside the US involves the Cablevision subsidiary) is here.

Lenfest

After graduating from Washington & Lee University (BA 1953) and Columbia Law School (LL.B 1958) Lenfest practiced law at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York before becoming corporate counsel for Walter Annenberg.

In 1970 he became Managing Director of Triangle Publications' communications division - Seventeen magazine (subsequently sold to Murdoch's News) and cable television operations. In 1974 he founded Lenfest Communications by acquiring two of Annenberg's cable television networks.

Lenfest Communications built interests in cable networks and national satellite promotion of cable programming, digital satellite distribution, and cable advertising and market promotion before being acquired by TCI, with control subsequently passing to AT&T and Comcast.

Studies

For Aaron see his autobiography Take the Measure of the Man: An American Success Story (Veritas Press 2001). Barry Diller is centre stage in George Mair's The Barry Diller Story: The Life & Times of America's Greatest Entertainment Mogul (New York: Wiley 1997) and Jerome Tuccille's Barry Diller: The Life and Times of a Media Mogul (Secaucus: Carol 1998).

The Roberts feature in Comcasted: How Ralph and Brian Roberts Took Over America's TV, One Deal at a Time (Philadelphia: Camino 2005) by Joseph DiStefano.

The cable business is discussed in L J Davis' The Billionaire Shell Game: How Cable Baron John Malone and Assorted Corporate Titans Invented A Future Nobody Wanted (New York: Doubleday 1998) and Stephen Keating's Cutthroat: High Stakes and Killer Moves on the Electronic Frontier (Boulder: Johnson 1999).

For the wider environment see Richard Caves' cogent Switching Channels: Organization and Change in TV Broadcasting (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 2005), Reed Hundt's You Say You Want A Revolution: A Story of Information Age Politics (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2000), Neil Chenoweth's Virtual Murdoch: Reality Wars on the Information Highway (London: Secker & Warburg 2001), Road Warriors - Dreams & Nightmares Along the Information Highway (New York: Dutton 1995) by Daniel Bursten & David Kline and The Highwaymen - Warriors of the Information Superhighway (New York: Random House 1997) by Ken Auletta.

For Lenfest in Australia see Mark Westfield's The Gatekeepers: The Global Media Battle to control Australia's Pay TV (Annandale: Pluto Press 2000) and the drier Pay TV in Australia: Markets & Mergers, a 72 page IPA paper (PDF) by Cento Veljanovski.