With close to $95 billion in annual revenue and more than 180,000 employees around the globe, Comcast is the biggest corporation headquartered in Philly.
Along with its multinational cable business (Xfinity and Sky), its global entertainment juggernaut (NBCUniversal) and its nationwide internet and phone services, Comcast also owns the Philadelphia Flyers, the Wells Fargo Center and a local catering company — and that’s just the start of it.
What happens in Comcastland can’t help but affect the rest of Philadelphia, and the media conglomerate started in 1963 by Ralph Roberts made plenty of headlines this year.
In addition to a slew of accessibility upgrades, there was a pioneering investment into esports, a battle over a potential landmark civil rights case and the opening of a glitzy hotel on its sky-topping tower. 2019 also saw the soft resignation of Senior VP David Cohen, long a top exec who lobbied governments in the company’s interest and played a role in regional politics.
Look back on it all with Billy Penn’s recap of the Year in Comcast.
Nation’s first esports arena
Creating a home for the Overwatch League team it owns, Comcast announced in March and then broke ground in September on the $50 million South Philly-based Fusion Arena, the first standalone esports venue in the Western Hemisphere.
This move came after Comcast joined forces with SK Telecom, a premier Korean telecommunications corporation, to further stabilize Comcast’s foothold in the competitive gaming industry.
Philly’s fanciest hotel
The gleaming Four Seasons hotel atop the shiny new Comcast Technology Center opened in August, with a special roundabout valet entrance, a super-fast elevator, a ritzy spa, and two restaurants. The one at the very top, Jean-Georges Philadelphia, got less-than-glittering reviews from the Inquirer, but the views are still unbeatable.
Leaning hard into streaming
Comcast made clear its intent to enter the online streaming service when its subsidiary, NBCUniversal, announced a gradual separation from its soon-to-be competitor Hulu, in May. Four months later, “Peacock” was born.
Set to launch in 2020, “Peacock” will be Comcast Corporation’s own streaming service, airing NBC shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” The service is expected to be free for Comcast cable subscribers — who’ve been cutting the cord in droves.
Questions over handling of assault and harassment
Former NBC Today Show anchor Matt Lauer was dismissed from the company after sexual abuse allegations years ago. But flames were reignited this year when a new book accused Lauer of raping a colleague and accused NBC of quelling coverage of Harvey Weinsten’s sexual assault allegations.
Democratic presidential candidates called on Comcast to investigate NBCUniveral’s handling of workplace harassment in an open letter to the DNC ahead of a presidential debate airing on MSNBC.
For its part, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim rejected claims made in the book and called it a “smear” in a staff memo saying, “the facts do not support Farrow’s allegation of a ‘cover-up,’ and he offers no further evidence.”
Industry innovation in fun and accessibility
You don’t get to be the world’s second largest cable corporation (behind AT&T… who knew?) without shaking the industry table. A short list of major innovations Comcast announced or launched include:
- Comcast Technology Center’s Universal Sphere, a three-story-tall orb that creates a 360-degree visual experience for riders.
- $39 million worth of details in the new Comcast-Sky merger, one of the biggest television acquisitions of 2018, including European channel consolidation.
- The corporation’s foray into home health care with the creation of an in-home health monitoring device.
- Eye-controlled televisions, so that you literally do not have to lift a finger to change the channel, and also to make television watching more accessible for viewers with physical disabilities.
- The launch of ASL Now, an initiative to make the brand more accessible for people with hearing loss or total deafness, including an online American Sign Language chat function and the ability to order Comcast materials in Braille.
They also released this weird ET “sequel” ad that just didn’t feel right for some folks. Apparently Steven Spielberg, who also worked on the Sphere, signed off on it. Points for trying?
Legal woes over civil rights and consumer protection
Back in 2015, African American media mogul Byron Allen sued Comcast on the basis of racial discrimination because the Philly-based corporation wouldn’t carry his Entertainment Studios Network television channels. This year, that legal battle escalated when the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. Both parties await the court’s decision. (Despite this, Comcast won an Urban League award for diversity and inclusion this month.)
Also, in June, Comcast lost a 2016 suit filed against it by Washington State and was ordered to pay $9.1 million when a court found Comcast broke a state consumer protection law.
Leadership changes afoot
Uber-influential media and politics power broker David L. Cohen, who hosted presidential candidate Joe Biden in his Northwest Philadelphia home, announced he was taking a decent-sized step back from executive duties at Comcast.
Cohen will remain with the company as an advisor to other top execs, but said he wanted to make room for a younger perspective.
“I recognized that I needed to focus on Comcast’s next 10 years — who was going to be by [CEO] Brian [Roberts’] side as he continues to lead our company into the future,” Cohen said in his December announcement.