Comcast’s Brian Roberts Plays Down NBC Woes

Says network will fare better under his management than GE

Only two days into full ownership of NBCUniversal, Comcast NBCU CEO Brian Roberts knows better than to step into the middle of the feud between Jay Leno and the network.

"I think Jay Leno is fantastic," he said, responding to a question from David Rubenstein, CEO of the Carlyle Group and chairman of the Economic Club during a sit-down interview in Washington. "There's a lot of people issues and you keep that stuff confidential."

Leno has taken several pot shots at Comcast on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, which wins in its time period. But NBCU is also preparing for Jimmy Fallon to take over from Leno, according to several reports.

Deft at deflecting questions, Roberts also declined to respond to whether it was more complicated to deal with Washington regulators or creative types in Hollywood.

Welcome to network TV mogul-dom, Brian Roberts.

During the nearly hour-long interview, Roberts spent more than half the time answering questions about the history of Comcast, his personal career, and Comcast's cable and Internet businesses, which he knew well. He even came prepared with a demo of Comcast's new X1 cloud-based on-demand service and interactive guide.

But he was less specific about NBCU, which still remains at the bottom of the ratings after two years of management under Comcast.

"I think we have it pretty close to just right, right now," Roberts said. "We have a super person in picking shows in Bob Greenblatt [NBC's chairman of entertainment]. He's going to get grief when it fails and praise when it succeeds….We have the same thing at news, in sports, in movies. That's the nature of the content business… I think personally you have to try to be more even, or go so high or so low."

NBCU, he said will fare a lot better under Comcast management than GE.

"All parts of the company were getting less capital, less investments and less attention. In the case of this company, we have the balance sheet to invest. We're making more pilots than ever before," Roberts said. "I've never seen a company that has more opportunities."

But with NBCU, Comcast is now more dependent on advertising, a condition Roberts was quick to recognize when asked about his views of the economy.

"We're now the nation's largest advertising recipient, between the cable business locally, NBCU and our cable channels nationally and locally, so our advertising is very relevant to the question [of the economy]," Roberts said. "We see a pretty good recovery. It's not as much as it was before, but clearly stable and steady as she goes."