Comcast had a wonderful opportunity in 2000 to thrust itself into the national spotlight when the Republican National Convention was held at Comcast-owned First Union Center in Philadelphia. Attendees driving on I-95 from the airport were greeted with "Welcome to Comcast Country" billboards; the venue’s name was temporarily changed to Comcast First Union Center; a glossy 100-page convention guide was filled with Comcast ads and info; and a TV studio Comcast set up controlled access to the convention’s parade of politicians. It’s colorful details like these that make Comcasted, Joseph DiStefano’s critical look at Comcast and the father-son team at the helm, at times an enjoyable read. But I found myself getting dizzy trying to follow a narrative that jumps around too much. DiStefano, referring to a Philadelphia Inquirer story that ran before the convention, quotes Larry Makinson, head of the Center for Responsive Politics, as saying that Comcast’s full-throttle self-promotion, timed with the convention, "is how you become a player." That quote, two-thirds of the way into the story, is telling. By the time the 2000 Republican Convention rolled around, Comcast had been a player for a long time, quietly growing its businesses and cultivating all the right relationships on Wall Street and in Washington. All it needed was the right deal that would vault it onto the national stage. That moment came when it acquired AT&T Broadband. As a business reporter for the Inquirer, DiStefano has watched Comcast’s history unfold. His book, subtitled "How Ralph and Brian Roberts Took Over America’s TV, One Deal at a Time," describes Ralph Roberts’ ascension in the cable industry and the deals that brought Comcast to its current bellwether position as the largest cable operator. Yet many of the details are recycled from stories that have long floated around the industry. DiStefano has clearly done his research, and it’s fun to read about cable’s wild and woolly early days. The recollections and anecdotes from insiders such as former Comcast CFO Julian Brodsky, rival cable operator Gerry Lenfest and investor Ted Aronson add breadth to DiStefano’s story, but the author’s lack of access to the book’s main figures leaves the narrative wanting. Both Ralph and Brian Roberts declined to be interviewed. DiStefano excels at describing the impact of the big events in Comcast’s history, such as its purchase of AT&T Broadband, then the largest cable operator in the U.S. "In its latest merger," DiStefano writes, "Comcast, the ultimate family cable company, had outdone them all. AT&T was a member of that most exclusive of corporate clubs, the thirty-member Dow Jones Industrial stocks, whose collective rise and fall measures the health of American investments. So, for that matter, was Comcast’s next target, the Walt Disney Company." Of course, one of Comcast’s seemingly few failures was its inability to convince the Disney board of directors to sell. The author is also adept at connecting the dots between pivotal Comcast hires—such as David Cohen, Ken Duberstein and Kerry Knott—and the company’s growing political clout. Each chapter is extensively notated, but the book lacks an index—an annoying oversight. Fascinating in spots, Comcasted is also somewhat uneven, its tone sometimes snarky, sometimes admiring. It’s hard to tell if DiStefano loves or hates the Robertses.

The Daily


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