Yesterday, Comcast officially announced that after nine months of negotiation, it had reached a deal to acquire NBC Universal from General Electric. The deal is valued at about $30 billion and includes NBC’s “lucrative cable channels — USA, Bravo, SyFy, CNBC and MSNBC.” Later in the day, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen spoke at length with ThinkProgress and a small group of bloggers. When asked about Comcast’s plans for NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC, Cohen stressed that the company was committed to preserving the “journalistic integrity” of the NBC news outlets:
[W]e’re keeping the same management team. We’re very impressed with what [NBC Universal CEO] Jeff Zucker and his team have been able to do. He’s taken a lot of hits, but if you look particularly in the cable channel world, they’ve just had phenomenal success. … I don’t want to say there won’t be any changes in anything — I think it would be crazy to say that — but we don’t come in with an agenda. [...]
We made a commitment today — another one of our commitments to protecting the journalistic integrity of all the news assets on the cable and broadcast side, and we’re very serious about that. I think professional journalists need to feel like they’re allowed to be professional journalists — do their job and express their opinions, and someone isn’t looking over their shoulder saying, “You know, what the hell did you say that for?”
Additionally, Cohen addressed rumors that Comcast was planning to merge CNBC and MSNBC — keeping the former’s daytime programming and the latter’s nighttime line-up — saying that there had “been no discussion about that on the Comcast side whatsoever.”
He also stressed that part of why the NBC deal is so attractive to Comcast is the potential to expand local programs and “enrich the local experience — local news, local public interest, and the localism aspects of the local broadcast stations.” He joked that because the company was using the word “localism” so much, it was going to soon be a target of Fox News host Glenn Beck, who often fearmongers about localism and media diversity. On a more serious note, Cohen said that he was concerned about becoming a target of Fox News, a position that NBC and even GE — whose CEO was ambushed by Bill O’Reilly — often found themselves in:
Let’s just call it the Bill O’Reilly-Keith Olbermann wars. And we’re not really used to that. I’ve joked with [Comcast CEO Brian Roberts] — I’ve said, “You know, are you ready to wake up and turn on the television set, and there on some show is a picture of you over the shoulder of some anchor, because Bill O’Reilly has called you a pinhead?” [...]
I mean, we’re totally committed — really really — to letting Keith Olbermann be Keith Olbermann, and we don’t have any problem with that. But in this world — we saw Jeff Immelt get dragged into something. Jeff Immelt was committed to letting Keith Olbermann be Keith Olbermann too, and all of a sudden, for a month, he’s a national story. So I think that’s going to be an adjustment for us. That’s going to be a challenge for us.