Brian Roberts made it clear again this week: When it comes to competing with Microsoft ( MSFT), Comcast ( CMCSA) is no IBM ( IBM).
In contrast to IBM's legendary strategic misstep of ceding the onscreen personal computer experience to Microsoft, Comcast CEO Roberts reiterated Monday -- in both word and deed -- that the cable operator will jealously guard and guide the onscreen gateway to the world of advanced television and other services. While Microsoft is a supplier of set top-box software to Comcast, Roberts' comments served to demonstrate that in the world of TV, Microsoft is just another supplicant pleading for the attention of the nation's largest operator of cable TV systems. More evidence came in the form of a newly announced transaction with the ailing TV software supplier Liberate Technologies ( LBRT). Though a Microsoft executive doesn't see any particular danger to Microsoft from Liberate, one analyst does. "Liberate had basically fallen off the face of the earth as a competitive threat," says Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research. But on Monday, says Bernoff, "it suddenly became a whole lot more important." At issue is the software enabling customers of Comcast and other cable operators to receive, and to navigate through, various advanced services. Speaking at the Smith Barney Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications conference in Arizona Monday, Roberts emphasized the importance of a navigation system -- and Comcast's efforts to keep it under its firm control. Roberts talked about Comcast's desire to differentiate itself through its technology. He noted Comcast's partnership with Microsoft -- which resulted in the deployment of Microsoft's Foundation Edition set-top software in certain advanced cable boxes used by Comcast customers in the state of Washington -- as well as Comcast's control of a joint venture with Gemstar-TV Guide International ( GMST) to develop an interactive onscreen programming guide.