The Next Media Deal of the Century?

brian roberts
Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
August 3, 2022

Like several other media moguls, such as Lachlan Murdoch and Roy Disney, Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts had the good fortune of being born into the right family at the right time. His late father, Ralph Roberts, was the founder of Comcast and served as its C.E.O. for 46 years. But it was Brian, with help and advice from his father, who turned the regional cable company into a national media powerhouse through a series of large and astute acquisitions. 

There was the landmark $72 billion acquisition, in 2001, of AT&T Broadband, the phone company’s cable business, at the time one of the largest M&A deals in history. It was an audacious and, at first, unfriendly deal, especially since AT&T Broadband was a subsidiary of AT&T and most decidedly not for sale when Roberts approached Michael Armstrong about buying the business. In the end, Roberts wore Armstrong down and put pressure on the AT&T management and board of directors to sell him the business by making public his generous offer for the subsidiary. (Along with many others, I worked on the deal as a M&A banker when I was at JPMorgan Chase.)

Roberts used the same technique—persistence, mixed with tenacity—to convince Jeff Immelt, the C.E.O. of GE, to sell him a majority stake in NBCUniversal in 2009 for around $25 billion (and the balance of the company a few years later). Brian had been on Jeff for years to sell him the business, after Comcast lost out to GE in the auction to buy Universal from Vivendi, in 2003. GE then married Universal with NBC to create NBCU. (GE got its hands on NBC in 1986 after GE bought RCA, which owned NBC along with a bunch of other disparate businesses.)