Comcast CEO Says He Isn’t ‘Completely Surprised’ by the Charter-Disney Dispute: ‘Probably Won’t Be the Last’

“I hope people are looking at what the consumer is saying,” Brian L. Roberts says during the Goldman Sachs conference

Brian L. Roberts
Brian Roberts, chief executive officer of Comcast, (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, isn’t”completely surprised” by the ongoing cable dispute between Charter Communications and Disney. The executive addressed the ongoing story at the top of his session at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia and Technology Conference.

“At some level, I guess I’m not completely surprised,” Roberts said on Wednesday. “When you have many distributors of the same product and in a geography, you’re going to have disputes between the content and distribution. It’s not the first dispute, and [it] probably won’t be the last dispute.”

Over Labor Day weekend, nearly 15 million cable subscribers lost access to ESPN, ABC and other Disney-owned channels as a result of Disney and Charter Communications failing to renew their distribution deal. This mass pulling of channels happened ahead of the first weekend for college football and during the U.S. Open, two major events for live TV.

Essentially, Charter said it agreed to pay higher fees to carry Disney’s channels, but sought greater flexibility in the bundling of programming. It also offered to market Disney’s streaming apps to Spectrum broadband customers instead of the “forced” DTC inclusion Disney wanted. The media giant declined the proposal, which led to the loss of live sports to consumers over the weekend. Under the previous deal, Spectrum paid Disney $2.2 billion annually in programming costs, which excluded revenue from advertising.

Roberts noted that the video ecosystem is “changing.”

“Change can have disruption,” he said. “Ultimately, I hope people are looking at what the consumer is saying. I think the consumer wants simplicity, somebody to help aggregate and to have the most bang for their buck.”

He also hoped that both companies would be able to “work it out.”

“Each company is dealing with their version of this transformational moment. And you’re going to see some tension, but I don’t know any more about that situation than what I’ve read in the press,” Roberts added.

As for where Comcast fits into this changing ecosystem, the CEO emphasized that the company was “really well positioned” for this change.

“I look at our company, and we don’t look at it as linear or streaming,” Roberts said. “We look at as linear and streaming as a whole strategy.”