Comcast faces spotlight after NBC deal

NEW YORK: This week, Comcast bought the controlling stake in General Electric's NBC Universal and all its properties, including the NBC television network, Universal Pictures, Telemundo, and its portion of Hulu.

NEW YORK: This week, Comcast bought the controlling stake in General Electric's NBC Universal and all its properties, including the NBC television network, Universal Pictures, Telemundo, and its portion of Hulu. Prior to the official announcement, an imminent sale of NBC to Comcast had been widely speculated on in the media and on Wall Street. To prepare for the December 3 reveal of the deal, Comcast put in place a robust communications plan that would include media outreach and digital communications and public affairs strategies.

"Our strategy was to get out of the gate first thing in the morning with a massive effort to communicate to all these different audiences," says D'Arcy Rudnay, SVP of corporate communications for Comcast, which worked with long-time firm Abernathy MacGregor on the deal. The $37-billion deal makes Comcast one of the world's largest media companies and is subject to regulatory approval, which will take place over the next year.

Comcast's media outreach included responding to reporters, launching a microsite with details about the transaction, and investor and media conference calls the day of the deal. In addition, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker appeared on CNBC.

Comcast and its team, including public affairs firm Law Media Group (LMG), were also online, blogging, responding to consumers, and using Twitter to communicate. The message, Rudnay says, was focused on why Comcast wanted to purchase NBCU and its plans for the future.

"It fits terrifically with our goals," she tells PRWeek. "We are a cable distribution company, and we're also a cable company, and we're an Internet company. We have scale in cable distribution. This was an opportunity to gain scale in the area of content as well."

The communications effort completed its task in terms of ensuring that the salient facts were communicated to a massive audience that spanned investors, regulators, and the public, but the merger - not surprisingly given its size and effect - has its critics. Some cite antitrust concerns or the more general, "it's just too big" variety.

Johanna Blakley, deputy director of The Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at University of Southern California, expressed concern for local broadcast news in the face of such consolidation.

"We tend to agree with a lot of those media watchdog organizations, like Public Knowledge, saying that mergers of this type are generally not good for the public interest," she says. "I don't know if there will be some new rivalries created and a restacking of the deck in terms of the cable network world, but that would be exciting to see."

A number of communications professionals counter that this type of media integration is where the industry must go in order to survive.

"This is a phenomenal multiplatform deal that brings scale and is something that we, as PR professionals, need to learn to maximize, capitalize on, and really learn how to use," says Vickee Adams, SVP and US director of media for Hill & Knowlton. "The analysts I've spoken with really compliment this deal because it realizes the vision that Comcast has made clear since they tried to acquire Disney. They wanted content, [now] they've got it."

"I think for PR people, having a re-invigorated NBC and all the properties is just a good thing," adds Nick Ragone, partner at Ketchum. "It's more content, more content online, more places for companies to pitch their stories to, more places for PR people to pitch their stories to. There will be more innovation."

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