Comcast's Brian Roberts: ‘We see these Olympics as a real laboratory’

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts
The Olympics’ importance to Comcast goes way beyond NBC’s prime-time window. It’s even more important than its cable channels, like NBC Sports Network, which has seen ratings and distribution growth thanks to the Games. For Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, the Olympics’ popularity allows his company to test new technologies and imagine how the media landscape will look in the next decade.

SportsBusiness Journal media reporter John Ourand caught up with Roberts in NBC’s compound at the Olympic Games in London last week and asked the executive about his Olympic Games experience.

What are your thoughts after your first three days as an Olympics rights holder?

ROBERTS: This has been a great beginning and it is all we could ever wish for in so many categories … the opening ceremonies, ratings, live streaming, great content on so many networks.

NBC’s operation in London seems so extensive to me.

ROBERTS: This is the most technologically sophisticated experience I’ve ever been a part of. These are real pros who have been doing this for decades, and I’m just trying to get out of the way and let them shine. What’s amazing to me is something called the “Subway Chart” that shows where all our production locations are and the various broadcast feeds, technology, fiber-under-the-sea and satellites are. When you look at the Subway chart you can see how we are able to deliver all this content when you want to watch it on whatever device you want to use. We have 3,400 people working here to make all this happen and they are working really hard. It’s early, but so far I think the ratings are great.

Is this the future of the Olympic Games that we’re seeing?

ROBERTS: We see these Olympics as a real laboratory. If you subscribe to cable or satellite, you can watch a lot more than what’s on linear TV. When we were bidding in Lausanne for the future Games, and we got the rights through 2020, we were looking at some statistics. In the year 2000, there was virtually no broadband technology, and in the year 2010, broadband has become such a huge thing. So what is coming in 2020 that doesn’t exist today? We don’t know. But we have the rights to broadcast on any new technology that may be developed. That’s one of the great things about the rights we have.

Do ratings matter to you?

ROBERTS: Different people have different answers to that. To the advertising department, they matter a lot, and Steve Burke, Mark Lazarus and Gary Zenkel are obviously watching them very closely. I look at ratings and say, there’s only so much we can control. As long as we’re heading in the right direction and deliver an excellent broadcast, then I am happy. We’re in it for a decade. This is the first three days. I’m thrilled the ratings are up.

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