David Cohen blends media, politics and business

By Brandon Scalea

 

Comcast executive David Cohen speaks with Rosemary Connors about the evolving media industry.
Comcast executive David Cohen speaks with Rosemary Connors about the evolving media industry.

 

David Cohen chats with Professor Allison Weidhaas on Nov. 14.
David Cohen chats with Professor Allison Weidhaas on Nov. 14.

The presidential election, the Olympics and Netflix were just a few of the topics discussed by a Comcast executive on Nov. 14.

In front of a packed house in the Cavalla Room, David Cohen, senior executive vice president for Comcast Corporation, was interviewed by Rosemary Connors, the NBC 10 weekend news anchor. The floor was then opened to questions from students and members of the community.

With the election of Donald Trump still fresh in everyone’s minds, Connors first asked Cohen for his thoughts. Despite now being in the media industry, Cohen spent time in law and politics. He rose to prominence in the mid-90s when he served as chief of staff to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who later became governor of Pennsylvania.

Cohen said although he was among those disappointed with the result of the election, Trump deserves everyone to give him a chance.

“I’m not going to reinvent history and say I was expecting that result,” he said. “But we’re not some banana republic. We ran a full and complete presidential election, and we elected Trump. I will say two things about it — he’s shown great temperance since election night and he’s going to be our president no matter what. We all owe it to the country and ourselves to respect that.”

Comcast has three main subsidiaries: Xfinity, NBC and NBCUniversal, which the company bought in 2011. NBCUniversal’s biggest event every two years is its coverage of the Winter and Summer Olympics, which makes Comcast “a material amount of money,” according to Cohen.

He said the games in Rio this summer were the most profitable ever, and for 17 nights, NBCUniversal’s coverage of the events beat every other television broadcast. About 80 percent of the people watching television were tuned into that broadcast. There were also 3.3 billion live streams utilized on the NBC Sports app alone — making the Rio Olympic Games the biggest media event in history. That number of digital screenings is twice as much as all the Olympics combined, said Cohen.

“The Olympics also has a tremendous effect on the TODAY Show, our local news broadcasts and our primetime entertainment lineup,” Cohen said. “This year, for the first time, we had substantial Olympic content on eight different cable channels, and their ratings were boosted not only during the Olympics, but after, as well.”

Despite impressive facts like these and an annual revenue upwards of $70 billion, Comcast still has its competitors. Among these, according to Cohen, are Disney, Sony and local news networks. Comcast is also competing with Verizon and DirecTV. Cohen said the recent merging of Time Warner Cable and AT&T is “the ultimate compliment to us” and “an attempt to mimic what we do.”

However, Comcast’s biggest competitor is Netflix, which reeled in nearly $7 billion in 2015. Cohen called the media streaming company his “ultimate frenemy.” After all, Cohen thinks competition is the best thing that can happen to a company.

“I have no doubt that a lot of people sign up for our broadband service because they want to get Netflix,” he said. “We’re frenemies because we need them to improve our broadband service and they need us to improve their Netflix service.”

Comcast affiliate Xfinity also boasts the X1 remote, which is voice operated. Over 10 million of these remotes have already been sold. Cohen said Comcast is always thinking of new ways to make its customers’ lives easier.

Speaking at Rider was also a homecoming in a sense for Cohen. A ’77 graduate of Swarthmore College, Cohen also received an honorary degree from Rider in 2010. He serves as chair of the Rider Parents’ Council and is on the Board of Trustees at the University of Pennsylvania. Ben Cohen Field, which Cohen financially contributed to constructing, is named after his son, who is an alumnus and die-hard supporter of Rider athletics.

As for the interview’s moderator, Connors is an Emmy-winner that has been a reporter for NBC 10 since 2009. She gained national attention for her investigative coverage of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.

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