Comcast should get props for aiming high

Buying NBC Universal is no Mickey Mouse deal for Comcast Corp., but it strikes many as goofy.

We still haven’t heard directly from General Electric or Comcast executives about why this deal will change the entertainment industry as we know it. The official announcement of what would be Comcast’s biggest prize could come as soon as Thursday.

But speculation has bubbled since early October about what a disaster this deal would be for the cable television giant. I don’t think I’ve read a single pop analysis that concludes this is a masterstroke for Comcast.

That’s because AOL Time Warner, the $111 billion media merger to end all mergers in 2000, proved to be such an unmitigated disaster. With lots of academic research showing that most big acquisitions rarely pay off, it is not surprising that the reviews of this deal are so bad.

It takes years before true success or failure can be declared definitively. But here’s what I’ll say about Comcast: It is the only Philadelphia-based company in the last 20 years that has not only sought to dominate its industry, but accomplished it. And it’s not ready to settle down.

Comcast persuaded Microsoft Corp. to invest $1 billion in 1997 when the cable company was a bit player in the Internet world. It launched a hostile bid for Walt Disney Co. in 2004 that was as bold as it was unsuccessful.

Few would ever confuse Comcast’s Brian Roberts with Oracle’s Larry Ellison. But like Ellison, Roberts has proven he’s willing to take the shot rather than stand down range holding a bull’s eye.

That’s a rare, restless streak for a company that calls Philadelphia home. The more typical path taken by local corporate giants is the one taken by CoreStates Financial Corp. or, more recently, Rohm & Haas Co.: build up to a point and then sell out at maximum shareholder value. Great for the shareholders, but less so for civic pride.

So I’ll applaud Comcast’s gumption for once again pursuing what it wants from a Fortune 100 corporation. Along with everyone else, I’ll watch the fireworks that pursuit is sure to ignite from all sorts of special-interest groups.

Far from goofy, that’s entertainment.