Comcast’s Brian Roberts Says Company Has Become ‘Aggregator of Aggregators’

The media conglomerate’s CEO said its new X1 set-top box has been a “game changer”

Comcast is a massive media conglomerate that owns content producing assets ranging from Universal Studios to NBC to Telemundo. But CEO Brian Roberts spent a good part of his Q&A session at a Monday investor conference talking about — and demonstrating — how the company’s hit set-top box has made it easier to watch Netflix and YouTube.

That’s what TV customers want today, Roberts said, and Comcast is prepared to deliver.

“We’ve been using X1 to change your experience and merge streaming and traditional television and on-demand,” he said at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

Earlier Monday, Comcast announced a deal with Google that will bring YouTube to the cable company’s Xfinity X1 set-top boxes. The arrangement will allow users of X1 devices — which are in about half of all Comcast homes — to seamlessly browse YouTube videos through the same interface as their cable channels. Comcast had previously agreed on a similar deal with Netflix.

The move is part of the increasing convergence between traditional pay-TV and internet streaming, as smart TVs have broken down barriers between, say, a sitcom on CBS, a show on Netflix and a YouTube video. By incorporating YouTube and Netflix into its user interface, Comcast can make its Xfinity offering seem more robust, giving cord-cutters one less reason to break out the scissors.

“X1 has been a game changer for us,” Roberts said. “We’re an aggregator of aggregators.”

He also shared some peripheral benefits from Comcast’s arrangement with Netflix, beyond just making customers happy.

“We’re also upselling some Netflix and taking advantage of that relationship,” Roberts said.

Roberts said Comcast’s increased emphasis on its relatively open set-top box does not mean the company is abandoning the traditional bundle as its core strategy — instead, Comcast is trying to lure people into becoming reliable contributors of recurring revenue by offering a top-of-the-line user experience.

“Our strategy is to get most of our customers in a bundle,” Roberts said. “Every time people take one more product, they churn less.”

And he said if they end up watching programming produced by a competitor on the X1 box, that’s just the cost of being a content producer in 2017.

“We’re going to give customers the best interface and the content they want,” he said.

Roberts also discussed Comcast’s film strategy, saying that most commercially successful movies seem to fall into two categories: franchises and animation. With regard to the former, he was confident that 2017 would be a big year for Universal at the box office, with several of its popular 2015 franchises, such as “Fast and Furious” returning to theaters.

Roberts also said the company’s $3.8 billion acquisition of DreamWorks Animation was part of a decision to “accelerate” the progress Universal has already made in animated films, under the stewardship of Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri. Meledandri was behind some of the studio’s biggest hits, including “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”

And despite presiding over a major news organization at a time when the president of the United States isn’t afraid to criticize reporters and outlets by name, Roberts also expressed confidence in the business climate under the new administration.

“I think we’re very encouraged that our sector is going to have a lot less regulation,” Roberts said, adding that he expects deregulation to occur in a “thoughtful” way.