Comcast activists out of luck in '16; cable giant to hold 'virtual' shareholder meeting

Activist Kati Sipp and Comcast customers won't have a public forum this year to grill Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

Comcast Corp. has scrapped its traditional annual shareholder meeting, in the past the site of protests over Time Warner Cable deal and other issues, for an Internet-based "virtual" shareholder meeting.

The company, which earned $8.2 billion in profits and compensated its top six executives $176 million in 2015, said the online shareholder meeting will save save Comcast on shareholder meeting costs at the Kimmel Center.

The virtual meeting also could allow more shareholders to participate, company spokesman John Demming said. 

Thirty-five shareholders attended Comcast's event last year that brought top executives and directors into the same room with shareholders.

"We are still working out some of the details," Demming said, adding that Comcast is "embracing this technology." He noted that 90 companies held virtual shareholder meetings in 2015.

The virtual meeting will have an audio feed but no video. Comcast execs will answer questions texted into the company by authenticated shareholders. The meeting itself is scheduled for May 19 at 10 a.m.

Protests outside the meeting venue have disrupted the meeting in the past. But for the most part, the crowd inside has been well-mannered.  Among those who traveled here to attend them were unionized Comcast employees from Chicago who complained about contract talks.

Comcast customers also complained about service issues or entertainment programming.

Sipp, the former director of Pennsylvania Working Families, a non-profit group that advocates for higher minimum wages and affordable Internet, said she bought a single Comcast share several years ago to gain entrance to the Comcast shareholders meeting and voice her opinion to Roberts and others. She has spoken at least twice, one time on Internet regulations or "net neutrality."

"Obviously they are one of the biggest, or the biggest,companies in the region," Sipp said."This is the only [shareholder meeting] I go to. I'm here. I'm based in Philly. So it's not a hard thing to do," she said.

"At no point have I seen people act in an uncivil mannger, you know, or yell at Brian Roberts," Sipp said. "They lined up at the mic and said their pieces and then sat down."

Going to a virtual shareholder meeting, Sipp added, seems a "further step away from accountability to the shareholders."