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WSJ Says Comcast Wants to Become a Streaming Giant In Deal with Roku or ViacomCBS; Comcast Says Not So Fast

Jeff Kotuby

The Wall Street Journal says Comcast is making moves to become a bigger player in the streaming game — but the company themselves say it’s all speculation.

Wednesday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal published a feature story on Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his supposed goal to turn Comcast from a cable giant into a streaming titan. According to the WSJ, Roberts is “out to show Wall Street that Comcast’s marriage of content and distribution puts it in a strong position to fight on two different fronts of the streaming wars.” But to do so, apparently, Roberts is struggling with either building his own infrastructure or simply acquiring content from another distributor, as rivals ViacomCBS and Amazon have done recently.

As far as content is concerned, the WSJ reports that Roberts doesn’t feel the need to make any moves, but sources close to Roberts told the Journal he’s scoping out potential deals, and alliances with ViacomCBS and Roku are “on the table.”

With distribution, Comcast is looking to rival Roku and Amazon by delivering streaming apps into homes across the country — just like it has delivered cable channels for the past few decades. The WSJ even reported a new initiative known internally as PlatCo, which will see Comcast team up with Walmart and Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense to develop smart TVs that could be in stores as early as this year. The goal with these devices would be to shift Comcast’s brand from that of a cable company to a national content distributor.

Obviously, any Comcast platform would heavily feature Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming app. Comcast acquired a majority stake in NBCUniversal in 2009, then fully acquired NBCUniversal in 2013 in a heavily debated move — but one that, in hindsight, was the first step in Comcast’s pivot to a content house. However, unlike other streaming juggernauts, spending doesn’t come easy to Roberts.

“The way Netflix and Amazon spend money doesn’t come naturally to Brian, which is perhaps Comcast’s biggest challenge going forward,” said Ted Harbert, a former NBC chairman who left NBCUniversal in 2016 after nearly two decades of service.

While this report is riveting, it’s apparently all speculation, according to a statement Roberts made to CNBC:

It’s unclear whether these comments were made for legal reasons, to mask actual deals being done in the shadows, or because it’s the truth and nothing was discussed — but the discussion apparently resulted in a nice boost to Comcast’s ViacomCBS’, and Roku’s stocks. We’ll just have to wait and see who Comcast ends up taking to the streaming dance.

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