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Pre-Merger Pragmatism Nothing New For Comcast’s Burke

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For all the fuss over Steve Burke laying out the planned structure for a post-approval Comcast-NBC Universal (NYSE: GE), you’d think this was something new. It’s not.

You don’t have to look any further than the summer of 2002, when the merger of Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) Cable and *AT&T* Broadband to create the nation’s largest cable operator was pending. Months away from an anticipated Q402 transition, the largest cable company in the U.S., Burke, then the president of Comcast Cable, laid out the post-merger company in detail — including a new regional structure and 16 execs from each company in the top field roles. (The headquarters merger setup was announced later.) The headline on my story for Cableworld back then: “Burke Gives Shape Of Things To Come For *AT&T* Comcast.”

His rationale to me at the time could be just as true today: “We needed to do this now because that process takes about 60 days. Our goal is to make sure we hit the ground running, and we want to be very aggressive about the planning.”

I don’t recall any cries of horror then or suggestions that laying out plans to move quickly should approval be granted was a slap in the face to the process and the regulators. Then again, Al Franken wasn’t a senator. Monday, Sen. Franken asked the Justice Department to look at whether Comcast, according to Reuters (NYSE: TRI), conducted “illegal collaboration” to come up with last week’s planned executive structure for NBCU should the merger be approved.

Keep in mind, few people if any, seriously expect a flat-out no to this merger. There is some expectation — or hope, depending where you fall — that regulators will set conditions that will need to be followed in order for a merger between the country’s largest cable operator and one of the largest programmers with a broadcast network to be allowed. Much of the jockeying right now is around getting the FCC to protect net access and competition.

The cable ops merger involved myriad local franchise agreements and complicated technology. It was a different beast from merging Comcast and NBCU.

But both times, the lengthy approval process had people and their careers tied up in knots. Burke’s NBCU outline may be presumptuous but it’s also pragmatic to the nth degree. Waiting to announce any of it until the day after approval not only would be disingenuous, it very well could be detrimental. Announcing it now gives everyone, including the execs involved, Congress, DOJ and the FCC, a much clearer road map of where Burke is headed as CEO of a post-merger NBCU. That doesn’t mean there won’t be surprises. Burke rarely shows all of his cards — and there are sure to be surprises for him, too, once projections shift to reality.