Comcast CEO Brian Roberts had his work cut out for him last week trying to convince anyone that his company’s $45 billion purchase of cable rival Time Warner was a boon to anyone other than Comcast. Yet gamely he tried, and for that he and Comcast earn points for consistency.
The two parties spun the purchase as a “merger,” when in fact Comcast would be absorbing all of Time Warner – that is, if the transaction is approved by shareholders and regulators. Roberts called the deal “pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and strongly in the public interest.” Another Comcast exec took up the anti-monopoly argument by emphasizing that the two companies currently “do not compete in a single zip code in America.” Comcast also claimed the deal would benefit net neutrality, at least until current protections expire in 2018, and predicted regulatory approval.
Not surprisingly, few bought any of Comcast’s claims. A former FCC commissioner said the deal would “run roughshod over consumers.” One industry expert spelled out why the “pro-consumer” argument was “nonsense,” while another shot through the claim that cost-saving “synergies” Comcast predicted would ever make their way into consumers’ bills. And public advocacy groups called on the FCC and anti-trust authorities to block the purchase. Amid the pile-on, however, Comcast kept cool and did not stray from its script.
THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Comcast and CEO Brian Roberts, for keeping their emperor fully clothed – appearances to the contrary.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stick to your story. The script Comcast used in announcing their deal stressed the same talking points over and over. Questions implying the contrary were deflected or ignored. With a controversial merger such as this, coming so soon after the apparent defeat of net neutrality, Comcast needs to win in the court of public opinion as much as that of the regulators. It’s hard to predict which will be the tougher fight, but the same arguments will carry in both theaters.