Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on NBCU's Olympic Bid: 'One of the most unique, stressful, dramatic and ultimately rewarding experiences I have had'

By Alex Weprin 

This morning Fortune held a breakfast discussion with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. Not surprisingly, NBCUniversal’s successful bid for 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympics were a big topic of discussion. Roberts candidly discussed their strategy for bidding and how they plan to turn a profit.

Roberts called the bidding experience “One of the most unique, stressful, dramatic and ultimately rewarding experiences I have had.”

Roberts said that the finances could clearly be worked out, noting that NBC has had the Olympics for 20 years, and would only be losing money for two of the games (Vancouver and London). The challenge was figuring out how to maximize revenue from the three big buckets: advertising, money from cable and satellite providers, and affiliates, as well as ensuring that the rights were all-encompassing enough to take advantage of technological change that may occur over the next decade.

“We had to find a way that they could be satisfied with what they were getting; and we could absolutely feel that we could make money into the future. The only way we could see to do that was to go long. Their stated bidding rules were not for anything but one quad, two games. They said ‘If you don’t offer for two we won’t consider anything else.’

Ultimately what we prevailed with was a decade relationship including London, that includes all media rights, whatever they may become. Wireless, Facebook, Internet, cable, all for a decade,” Roberts added.

Roberts noted that there will not be any increase in rights fees until six years from now, when it goes up by 15%. Roberts argued that those technology rights, which could include the ability to stream Olympics on an NBC page on Facebook, were key. “If you go to the NFL or NHL, it doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Roberts says that they intend to leverage as many of their 20 channels as they can when broadcasting the Olympics, including some obvious choices:

“With Comcast assets, we now have about 20 national networks. One of them is the Golf Channel. Golf becomes an Olympic sport in 2016. Every single shot, every single hole will be on the Golf Channel,” Roberts said.

He cited the experience in launching the NBC hit show “The Voice” as a model to follow for Olympics coverage:

“When we launched ‘The Voice’ the entire company worked together to make it as successful as it could be,” Roberts said. “The entire company will work to make the Olympics as successful as it could be. And we are a better company today than we were as two separate companies. “