As one with special interests in a somewhat unusual combination of energy and media companies, I find that a sizable portion of my time is taken up with the geopolitical intrigue, erratic economics, and resource concerns of the former. So it's a joy to figuratively kick back and observe the application of a steady stream of consumer-related technological advancements at a solid, all-too-often underappreciated company such as Comcast
I wasn't concerned with Comcast -- or much else -- back in 1963, when Ralph Roberts and two colleagues got things started by acquiring a tiny 1,200-subscriber cable franchise in Tupelo, Miss. But in the decade that I've been an observer of the company, it's gone from about 8 million subscribers to as many as 24 million. More important, in the process, it's added all manner of capabilities and groundbreaking services for its subscribers.
A lust for content
But it would be tough to identify a year of greater change at the company than 2011. For some time, CEO Brian Roberts -- son of Ralph Roberts -- and his solid management team clearly have been driven to add significant content capability to their distribution structure, hence their $54 billion offer for Disney
Today, the company includes the NBC broadcast stations; an array of cable channels, including Bravo, USA, and E!; the Universal movie studio; and a group of theme parks for NBCU. This week alone, the likely pace of growth at NBCU under its CEO, Steve Burke, became especially apparent.
The company began the week by announcing that it would buy The Blackstone Group's
First Olympic win
But that acquisition was just a warm-up for the week. Next, in an apparently stellar performance in Lausanne, Switzerland, before members of the International Olympic Committee, its executive team beat out News Corp.
The victory indicates but one reason for the NBCU acquisition, as NBC has broadcast all of the summer Olympic Games since 1988. Indeed, a key reason for Comcast's original attraction to NBC was the latter's presence in sports coverage.
Simultaneously awarding the rights to four Olympic Games, beginning in 2014, breaks new ground for the IOC. It apparently was done to provide the committee with a degree of financial insurance and to afford economies of scale to NBCU. Nevertheless, while turning a profit for each of the games would substantiate NBCU executives' comments that their interest is limited to profitable ventures, NBC lost $223 million on last year's Vancouver winter games.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the three competitors for the rights to the games each made presentations to committee members in Lausanne on Monday and Tuesday.
NBCU, which presented last, had hauled 17 executives across the Atlantic, with 13, including Brain Roberts, making presentations. The Journal quoted IOC member Richard Carron as saying, "We were blown away by the presentation and the passion" that the company's presenters displayed.
Back to college
But the Olympics aren't all that's occupying the attention of Comcast executives. Like other cable companies, it's generally limited by its digital technology to streaming its video to customers' set-top boxes, but the company will soon initiate tests at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a technologically upgraded delivery system.
When they return to campus in the fall, MIT students will be able to watch television on their computers or Internet-capable televisions using Comcast's Internet protocol video technology. Assuming those tests are successful, they will then expand to Comcast employees. Total success in the testing would lead the company to offer a completely IP platform.
Under that development, the company's programming would not be limited to its own franchise areas, as is the current technology, but could serve any IP-capable device. Indeed, the movement within the company clearly is being hastened by the rapid rollout of a variety of such devices. At the same time, Comcast would ensure its competitive status with the likes of satellite-video provider DirecTV
I could easily describe other major initiatives at the company -- such as an On-Demand Online test that will begin this month with 5,000 randomly selected homes across the nation. My primary objective, however, is to acquaint Fools with the changed nature of the big company, especially following its addition of NBCU. For my money, and especially amid a market and an economy that are both performing less than impressively, Comcast is an ideal company for those in search of portfolio additions with unusually compelling expansionary opportunities.
Why not keep tabs on the company's active pace in instituting new opportunities by adding its name to My Watchlist? It's our free and personalized stock-monitoring service.
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We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares of any of the companies named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.