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Comcast Sees Opportunity in New Rivalries

For his part, Burke remains sanguine about Comcast's position. "We are not by any means ignoring the competitive threat," the executive said Wednesday. "In fact, everything we're doing is embracing it, but we also don't feel it's cause for panicking or thinking the sky's falling."

He says Comcast believes the telcos would have to outspend the cable industry, which has already been through a round of network upgrades, in order to compete on services such as video-on-demand. It would take the telcos "many, many years" to do that, Burke said.

Indeed, as years go by, evidence mounts that the cable business is here to stay, Burke says. He notes that this isn't the first time that people have seen a looming threat to the cable industry. Ten years ago it was Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic saying the RBOCs would destroy cable, Burke says. Later, satellite broadcasters such as DirecTV (DTV) were seen as the heir apparent.

"Every industry has competition, and competition tends to make people's jobs more difficult," Burke said. "But it does not tend to destroy an industry."

That said, for all Burke's optimism, it's clear that his efforts to build partnerships and lay the groundwork for the broadband future have encountered some resistance. He pointed to a meeting he had with then-Viacom president Mel Karmazin. Burke says he asked Karmazin to supply Comcast's video-on-demand project with programming from channels such as CBS News, Nickelodeon and MTV. Burke spent 45 minutes explaining the opportunity, he says.

"Mel sort of smiled and said, 'Here's what I want to do. I want to put my head on the table, and I want to close my eyes. And when I open my eyes, I want you to be out of my office,'" Burke said.

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