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A JHM Exclusive: A Full Transcript of Yesterday’s Comcast Press Conference

Well, given that these folks could turn out to be the new bosses of the Walt Disney Company, Jim Hill thinks that we should all learn a bit more about Brian Roberts and Steve Burke. Which is why he prepped this transcript.

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I know, I know. This is kind of a departure from the usual way that JimHillMedia.com is run. One story instead of three. But I don’t need to tell you folks that these are pretty unusual times.

And given that most of us didn’t really know much about the Comcast Corporation ’til yesterday morning, I thought that it was important that we all make an effort to learn a little bit more about this company. More importantly, what their intentions toward the Walt Disney Company are.

So — toward that end — I spent most of yesterday working up a transcript of the Comcast press conference. You know, the public meeting NYC where this Philadelphia-based firm revealed that it intended to pursue a somewhat hostile takeover of the Walt Disney Company.

There’s lots of interesting tidbits buried in this document. News about how long Comcast officials think a merger with Disney would take to get government approval (A year to nine months), whether reaching out to Pixar is a part of their plan (You bet!) as well as the corporation’s plans to revive and revitalize Disney Feature Animation as well as the Disney theme parks.

So dig on, folks and learn all that you can about Comcast. There’s really some fascinating reading here. That is — of course — if you can get past all the “Ums” and “You Knows.”

DAN COHEN: Good morning everyone. My name is David Cohen. I’m executive vice president of Comcast Corporation. I want to welcome you to this press conference. Joining me on this stage are Brian Roberts, the president and CEO of Comcast and Steve Burke, president of our cable division. Also with us in the audience is Ralph Roberts, the founder and chairman of the executive and finance committee. John Alchin and Larry Smith, Co-CFOs of Comcast Corporation. There are people joining us by telephone as well. So I’m going to turn the podium over to Brian, and Brian and Steve will take us through a brief presentation and then open the floor for questions. Brian?

BRIAN ROBERTS: Thank you, David. Good morning, everyone. We are proud and excited to be here to discuss Comcast’s proposal to merge the Walt Disney Company and Comcast together. This combination would create one of the world’s premiere entertainment and distribution companies and attempt to restore the Disney grand name to its prominence and the Disney Company to the growth through the marriage of content and distribution.

This is an incredibly compelling combination. There is simply no doubt in my mind and all of our folks here today that the two companies together are better than either apart by itself. We think that we can achieve things for our customers that will allow them to access the best of the Disney content, the best of the ESPN content, the best of ABC and Miramax and all the wonderful library and new content in the years ahead. Coupled with our cutting-edge state-of-the-art broadband technology — whether it’s to your television set or to your Internet connection — with Comcast high speed Internet.

So we truly believe that we will have created an entertainment communications leader. Let me now review — so everyone make sure we have the same facts — what the proposal is. We basically have offered 0.78 of a Class A voting share for each Disney common share. That will then result in Disney shareholders having 42% of the combined company. One of the real pluses is — by doing a stock-for-stock tax free deal — all shareholders now enjoy the combination benefits that will be created by putting this company together. We have invited, you know, several members of the Disney board to join the Comcast board and we really want to try and see if we can get the company off to a terrific start.

Let me review for you quickly the pieces of the two companies. So that you can see if you agree with the conclusion that — together — it would be one spectacular company:

Comcast today is approximately in 21.5 million cable homes, and we have our wire and our state-of-the-art fiber optic technology to close to 40 million homes past. We have 5. …We announced this morning our earnings results. We have 5.3 million high speed internet customers and 1.3 million telephone customers. So we have tremendous subscriber relationships in — at present — in 22 of the top 25 cities in America.

We have just completed the integration of AT&T Broadband the last 18 months. And I’m happy — Steve Burke will talk a little bit about this — to tell you that we are ahead of every single schedule. We reported earnings this morning and gave our guidance for 2004 where anybody and ourselves thought that we could get this quickly. The network is fully — 93% rebuilt and we have strong financial position. We have reduced by nearly 10 billion dollars the debt in one year that came with AT&T Broadband. We think we’re ready for the logical next step. And that — of course — is that of entertainment and content.

The Walt Disney Company is a leader in entertainment, obviously, with kids, sports, news and movies. The four most important areas for content for customers, whether they’re getting that content from television or any other medium. Obviously, the brands are legendary with Walt Disney and what they’ve created. And we’re very respectful and mindful of the incredible brand and the institution that is the Walt Disney Company.

Therefore, if you put the two together, you will have a company with those four categories, a potential to be a leader in all four spaces of family programming: film, news and sports nationally and locally with an unmatched technology platform in a very competitive business. Every one of their businesses is competitive and every one of our businesses is competitive.

The financial outcome — of course — would be a company that has substantial size, employees all over the country and the ability — I think — when you’re working together as one company to say “Okay. What creative ideas can there be and how can we accelerate giving them to customers on the other end?” Could you license it, could you work it two separate companies? Sure you can. But not the same as you can when you’re one company combined.

That — to me and to us — is what happens in the space that we operate in and we think that our company is ready for this rather large and dramatic next step. We’re very fortune — in order to figure out how to make it work that we have, who just handled our last large step, Steve Burke. President of Comcast Cable as David mentioned. Who worked at the Walt Disney Company for 12 years and has worked in three of the four divisions that Disney has in senior leadership roles. And Steve is very intimate with where Disney’s been, where Disney is and where it might go in the future. So it gives me great pleasure that one of the ways that we’re feeling optimistic about where we can take this company is the culture that we’ve created to attract people like Steve Burke. Who want to be at our company and who want to take the opportunities that this company can become. Steve?

STEVE BURKE: Thank you, Brian. I think the place to start is by looking at how the two companies — if they’re put together — are going to be stronger and more profitable and more successful than if they were kept apart. And we’ve identified two major categories of improvements that derive from putting these two companies together and I’ll go through each of them.

The first category is restoring the operating performance at the various Walt Disney Company divisions to where it was not too long ago. If you look at the ABC network and owned stations, ABC is a weak No. 4. Doesn’t make very much money in the broadcast business, despite the fact that CBS, Fox and NBC make between $800 million and $1.3 billion dollar a year. Our goal for all of these businesses — we believe — is reasonable. And that is if we get halfway to being the No. 3 network, ah, that would improve the profitability of the combined entity by $300 — $500 million. We believe that that’s a reasonable goal. And we have some ideas, specific ideas, about how to do that.

The second area which we feel we have real expertise is by improving the performance of the cable channels that the Walt Disney Company currently owns. If you look at the Walt Disney Company’s cable access, they’re fantastic access. However — if you drilled down and look at the Disney cable network group, and in particularly ABC Family which Disney paid over $500 million for just a couple of years ago …

ABC Family — by our calculations — is not making money, or making very little money. It’s certainly not a fair return on investment. We have some ideas about ways to improve those cable channels. It’s an area that we’ve been quite successful in over time with E! and QVC and the Golf Channel and our other various cable interests. We also think that we could be more helpful in terms of getting more distribution. Most clearly on our cable systems but also more broadly distribution from throughout the cable industry. So we think that there is a synergy potential, a value creation potential in terms of cable channels on the order of $200 — $300 million.

If you then drop down to what are the things we can do just by combining these two companies? What are the benefits that derive by putting these two great companies together? We think that there’s an immediate impact in terms of eliminating duplication in corporate and other overhead, economies of scale, so forth and so on, of between $300 — $400 million. We also believe that there are tremendous new business opportunities. So — in terms to the value creation that we’ve quantified — we think within a few years we can get between $800 million and $1.2 billion worth of value creation.

But — more importantly — I think we’ve identified a number of thing that we haven’t be quantified that we believe are ways that the Walt Disney Company’s operations could be significantly improved. And I’d like to talk about those on the next two slides. Again, these are not in the value creation numbers. But I think our feeling is that there’s a chance to reignite one of the world’s greatest entertainment businesses.

Now I’ll start with animation. If you look at the Disney animation business, until fairly recently, the Disney animation business was the unchallenged leader in the industry. It was the dream of every great animator to grow up someday and work for the Walt Disney Company. And if you looked at just the years 1991 to 1994 and you’d see titles like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” a little bit later on, but “Aladdin.” The type of movies that were made by Disney just 10 or even 5 years ago were fantastic.

Since about 1999, the Disney animated studios have not produced the kind of quality product. And our feeling is that the Disney animation business is absolutely central to the heart of what the Walt Disney Company is. And one of the first things that we would like to do is — if we’re fortune enough to put these two companies together — is do everything we can to empower the existing animation group to make sure that they feel like they’re right in the heart of the company.

And also to reach out to other companies who make animated, quality animated product like Pixar and others. To try to make sure that — over time — the Walt Disney Company regains its position as THE place for great children’s animation.

Animation drives the Walt Disney Company. It drives the success of the consumer products businesses and the theme parks. And we feel that it’s very, very important that that animation business be supported and cause it to thrive in the future.

The second area where we think that there’s room for revitalization and improvement are the Disney theme parks. It’s hard to think of a product or service in the United States that families love more than the Disney theme parks. And we believe that there are ways to revitalize those businesses, restore some of the creative spark to the attractions and hotel and concessions side of those businesses. And also cross-promote and advertise more aggressively.

On and off, all the properties that this combines, the company would have. None of those benefits are in our analysis. But they’re very much on our mind.

If you then look at a very important part of our thinking. It’s what can you do — let’s assume you make improvements to the Walt Disney Company’s operations — what can you do just by putting these two companies together?

The first and foremost area of priority, I think, will be launching successful new cable channels. This has been a big growth engine for the Walt Disney Company. It’s been a big growth engine for Comcast. And we believe by uniting all of those great brands and wonderful programming and movies and everything else with our distribution: 21 million subscribers, video subscribers and over 5 million high speed data subscribers … We oughta have the ability to create new cable channels. When a cable channel is created and works, it creates billions of dollars worth of value. And we think that is a very priority if we are successful putting these two companies together.

The second area … We believe that television is changing very rapidly due to the introduction of new technology. The cable industry is almost fully rebuilt. Digital technology is being rolled out on the cable side. The satellite companies are rushing to get more interactive features. And our feeling is the Disney library, the ESPN asset and — of course — ABC and all of its various properties could be tremendously valuable on these new platforms. And that’s a way to create value for the Disney assets. It’s also a way to create value for Comcast Cable.

We’re big believers in video on demand. We believe eventually people, the majority of people are going to have time shifting functionality. Whether it’s video on demand or PVRs like Tivo. We think that the Disney movies and attractive windows and video on demand makes a tremendous amount of success. We think time shifting ABC product … We’re doing this already in a number of our markets with NBC News, for example. and also various cable properties: Biography, Comedy Channel.

What we’re finding is people love the ability to pause, go backwards or fast forward with television. And we intend to give them that ability throughout our footprint. And I believe that most cable companies are going to try and do the exact same thing. So that should be a real opportunity. Now and — of course — ESPN and all of ESPN’s brands and the ability to make those interactive as television evolves that way.

But — as television is evolving — the same thing is happening with the internet side of our business. We have over 5 million high speed data customers. We believe we’re the biggest broadband provider in the world. And the ability to carry these wonderful brands with our broadband capacity and everyone else’s broadband capacity …

Wouldn’t be wonderful if you could have a subscription on demand package of Disney programming for your kids? Would people pay $9.95 a month for that? I know I would. I have 5 kids and the idea of being able to give them more Disney product would be very exciting for them.

But I think the same thing could be true for ESPN or ABC. All of those products, I think, are waiting to be further used on all of these new technologies for consumers benefit.

We also think that there’s a significant ability to leverage cross promotion if you put these two companies together. One obvious example we came up with; we happen to own the Golf Channel, Outdoor Life and three regional sport networks. And wouldn’t be great if those individual cable networks all had the ESPN brand associated with them? Wouldn’t it be great if you could cross promote viewership? And clearlythose assets — in our opinion — will be stronger together than they would be separately.

We also have 21 million subscribers and 5 million high speed data customers that we think there’s interesting potential to use our existing distribution to help promote the Disney theme parks. So lots and lots of ideas.

Again, on all the opportunities — which really is one of the major reasons why this deal makes sense for us and why we’re excited about it — we haven’t quantified any of these. Because I think it’s very hard to do and we can get plenty of savings without even trying.

If you then look at the track record of our company on the content side, I think the most dramatic example of value creation has gotta be QVC. QVC — the company that we sold our piece of for close to $8 billion recently — is the most dramatic example of how we’ve been able to create content assets that are very valuable.

But E! Entertainment, Style, the Golf Channel, Outdoor Life, the Comcast SportsNet. We’re launching a video game channel called G-4, another channel called TV One. This is an area of the business that we feel we understand. We have a proven track record. And we believe the combination of our expertise in handling assets and experience and the wonderful treasure trove of assets inside the Walt Disney Company would be a great thing for both companies and our shareholders.

If you then look at why we feel so confident that we can do this, I think if you look no further than what we’ve just gone through with AT&T Broadband. And Brian can take you through some of the facts and figures.

But we had our earnings call today, where we reviewed the year 2003. 18 months ago, there were a lot of people who doubted whether we could put AT&T Broadband — which was 1 1/2 times the size of Comcast — together with Comcast. And today — 18 months later — I’m pleased to say that integration process is now largely behind us.

Which is not to say that we won’t have further opportunities to grow and optimize our business in the future. We’re operating as one company with a largely rebuilt infrastructure with a company that has real momentum to go forward. And we are very confident that our company is ready to take on this additional challenge. Ready and excited about it. And also because the AT&T side of the business is in such good shape. And that the leveraging that Brian talked has happened. Now is the time.

Brian?

BRIAN ROBERTS: Thank you, Steve. One last slide and then we’ll go to questions.

Just to wrap it up. I think that Steve touched on a number of the obvious and exciting high points of what you would have when you put together these two companies. We really — bottom line — think accelerates the digital future. All content is going digital. Consumers can have access to it, be able to carry it around, get it over their computer, get it on their television. We think that we’re in the business of delivering that, competing for that opportunity with customers.

You need a management team that is willing to evolve and be creative. I think that Steve is unbelievable and deserving of cable operator of the year for what he accomplished with AT&T Broadband. Which just came out.

But it’s also Larry Smith and John Alchin who have been the financial discipline of the company for clearly 20 years. And the culture which my Dad and Junie Brodsky and Dan Aaron founded at Comcast. And you put it all together and we recruit folks like David Cohen — who was Chairman of the largest, fastest growing law firms in Philadelphia — want to join this company. And I just think we can keep making it better and better.

And so today’s step is a journey. But we think — hopefully — the Disney board will consider it and that we can make this a reality.

Now let’s go to questions.

Q: Who on the Disney board have you contacted and who’s been encouraging about (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BRIAN ROBERTS: I have not spoken to anybody on the Disney board.

Q: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Have you ask them to join …?

BR: No. We just … In our letter that we wrote to Disney today, we said we’d be welcome several members of your board, whoever they would select or whatever … However we’d work that out as we go through the process.

Q: So no encouragement within the Disney …?

BR: We .. They had no communication from me, anyway, to anybody on the board. We felt that — something like this — gotta be public. There’s an awful lot of rumors. Yeah, I don’t think that this is a huge surprise. It’s a logical next step for Comcast to wanna get into content. And I think that Disney has said they want to use new technologies for their content. And — you know– there you have it.

Q: Can you talk about your conversations with Mr. Eisner and what his opposition is and what makes you think that’s surmountable opposition?

BR: Um. Well … I’ll just … These conversations, they were private. Private. But to simply say — as we said — it was made clear that it was not an immediate interest by Mr. Eisner to consider putting the two together.

We do think a number of the shareholders and perhaps member, board members, may look at that. And we want to make this as friendly as possible, as fast as possible. And we do believe that this is a very compelling offer to the shareholders of Disney.

This is a fair offer for both sides. It’s very hard in a deal to how to figure out how to get that balance just right. Wanna pay a big premium. $5 billion. Their stock has some run-up. It was as low as $15 as high as $25 in the last year. We’re paying … offered more than that. And — at the same time — we have a great company and we’re gonna be disciplined in how we approach this.

Q: When did you start talking to him and how many times have you talked to him?

BR: I don’t want to go into all that detail, if I could. Yeah?

Q: Some investors argue that you’re going to have to pay or offer $30 a share or higher to try and secure Disney. Are you prepared to do that?

BR: I think that our proposal speaks for itself. I don’t feel that there’s anything to be bashful about. I think it’s a very fair, respectful proposal. We hope that the board will consider it. I think that we have put, in every deal we’ve done, we’ve been a disciplined buyer and we’ve been a disciplined seller. And we’ve walked away.

In Media One, we didn’t succeed. In QVC — which we founded or helped found with Joe Siegel and build it from its infancy — when there was a compelling price, when Liberty offered us close-to-$14 Billion value for the company, for our piece, with $7.9 billion — we sold. In cellular, we bought in and later — even though it was in Philadelphia, our home town — we sold.

So I think one of the things that — I didn’t put a slide up but what we tell our investors is — we’ve been a public company since 1972. Since the day we went public, we’ve had a 21% compounded return to our shareholders for 32 years, 31 1/2 years. That’s double the Standard and Poor’s 500. We’re fortunate that Money Magazine picked us as one of the best five stocks sold in the last 30 years.

I think we’ve gotta do the right thing for all our shareholders. And — at the same time — I think we’ve made a very compelling, great succession plan. We’ll revitalize both companies better than they could be. The offer? It speaks for itself.

Q: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Last offer? What would it take to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

A: I think that there are too many arbitrators in the room. The offer speaks for itself. I feel that’s the same question. Yeah?

Q: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) And also what you expect to get in return from Disney?

A: Well, the first part was about poison pills. I don’t believe that there are any of those at Disney. But their by-laws are public record.

Regarding second part was — anti-trust issues — Yeah, we believe that there is very clear laws that around the cable industry and the broadcast industry that address whether and how companies can come together in this fashion. There are rules that say — for instance — that you’re a cable company and you own programming, you must make that content available. The program access rules. That would apply to us. Which are what Newscorp just voluntarily agreed to do as part of their Direct TV acquisition.

David Cohen? Maybe you want to add to … Any other regulatory … But we believe that this can happen. And with the proper review and the appropriate review that’s afforded all these types of transactions.

DC: Thanks. You covered it.

Q: Can you discuss the extent to which your offer is opportunistic? In other words, is your timing in any way dictated by the turmoil that’s going in Disney right now? Would you be making this offer if this were not going on at this point?

A: Yeah, ya know … Ya know — in all business — there’s looking at all the factors that at the time. But — thankfully — this is a pretty compelling combination. I mean, if there’s no other message that I’d like to leave today, it’s how excited we are about what this company could be.

When’s best to put it together, how’s best to do it … You know, that’s all very important. But you gotta start with: Do you think this company could be something special? And we certainly do.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Michael Eisner. And he said “Not interested right now.” And that’s past.

There is — therefore — Today, we were announcing our earnings and our guidance for the full year. And this was something that was on our minds. And it, you know, the timing. You know, we want to tell our investors this was something that we might be doing and something we might be pursuing.

And so, you know, I don’t know how you ever explain timing. But I think that it has a lot to do with being told on Monday — or earlier this week — that it would either go not down this road or begin the process.

Yes, sir? Hang on. They want to wait ’til the mike gets there. So everybody can hear.

Q: Hi. Can you address ESPN. Obviously, ESPN has be able to consistently, you know, raise its rates every year. You know that, better than anybody. But there is some concern that thqt process might be getting to a end. And that maybe that raising power has peaked, at least in the short term. And it’s a such a key component of what you designed. Would you address that issue?

A: Sure. I think ESPN is a marvelous franchise. And it’s a lot of the reason that cable’s had this great success over the years. Along with some of the other early key brands that defined cable television.

Um, I think there’s an opportunity to enhance that product. There’s many ways to do things without just raising rates. High definition, interactivity, streaming. These are things that Disney is working on and Comcast is working on. The opportunity to do that as one company, to help regional sports, to help … Um … Ya know — we look at additional channels.

So I think it’s in a terrific position. And I’m sure there’s a tension that’s always occurred between cable operators and cable programmers, By being some of both, that’s very consistent with what Time Warner. That’s consistent with Newscorp. And consistent with a number of people that are in content and distribution.

But in the end, I think we can help those relationships with the industry to launch new product. And help understand — from a cable operator’s perspective — how is the best way to give access to that content that consumers really wanted? And — in their so doing — create the maximum value for ESPN and for the cable company. Yeah?

Q: Have you spoken with Roy Disney and have his impression on the deal at all?

A: No, we have not had any conversations with any of the Disney shareholders at this point.

Q: To the casual observer, could you give us some guidance on whether or not … How are you going to succeed where other mergers have failed, such as in AOL / Time Warner, Vivendi — Universal, etc.

A: Well, there are some good examples in life and some bad examples. We’d like to put AT&T/Comcast as a good example. As a stellar example of a merger. That has worked better than, I think, anybody. I think CBS and Viacom turned out pretty successful for the Viacom and the CBS shareholders. I think Time Warner and Turner was pretty successful and on a nice path. The couple examples that you mentioned … NBC is now trying to buy Universal, obviously, and USA Network.

So you’ve seen lots of transactions: Newscorp with Direct TV, Newscorp with buying Fox Studios. It comes down to people, execution and not getting ahead of yourself. And something that I think that — you know — you don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself. You try to make it every year. We’ve been doing that with a long time. Our company — 15 years ago — was probably 1/20th the size of that we are today.

We’ve done a lot of acquisitions in cable and other businesses. Cellular, electric commerce and some of the things you’ve heard today. And I think we have a great track record.

But this is a whole new league, a whole ‘nother thing. We’re very respectful of it. We’re lucky to have Steve.

But — you know — you’ve gotta set realistic goals. And — as Steve said — a lot of the things that we will certainly work on, we’re not sitting there trying to quantify. And you want to start with a fair, balanced offer for both companies. So you give yourself a chance to be successful. Yeah?

Q: If this deal does not work out, what other properties or sorts of properties would you pursue and do you think are available to you? And — secondly — with the merged company remain in Philadelphia?

A: First of all, as with a lot of situations … You know, we wanna be successful. But we want to be disciplined and thoughtful about it. And we’ve walked away from big things before. On multiple occasions. We didn’t bid for Vivendi. We took a look. We didn’t buy Media One. So life goes on.

And that’s something that the grey hairs at our company are constantly reminding us all the time. There’s always another way. So I think that this is an offer. And I hope it’s very compelling. I see some non-grey hairs saying the same thing down there.

But I think that — frankly — that this is a very exciting possibility. And we wanted to see if it was something that Disney would consider. Merged company base? We’re still going to be in Philadelphia. But the Disney Company’s still gonna be in Los Angeles. And we gotta figure out how you operate.

But the reality is that we have something like 60,000 employees at Comcast. Less than a thousand are at the corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. We understand operating — from a cable company all the time and our programming company — and none of them are headquartered in Philadelphia. And I think the vibrancy of the Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles is pretty important on a go-forward basis and we will certainly continue that. Yeah?

Q: Hi. I think certainly an interesting transaction and a potential opportunity. However, your cost increase in the trading that I saw earlier and the shareholders don’t seem to be holding it as a value creation, at least initially. I think this may be twofold 1) the expectation among shareholders, I believe some of your larger shareholderswas that this was going to be a year to continue the integration of Broadband, AT&T Broadband, and work on building the broadband out and potentially collapsing. Secondfold, I think there’s some uncertainty regarding how this transaction works logistically. Could you speak to specifically how you anticipate the process going forward from here? Whether it’s through discussions for, directly with Disney shareholders, whether it’s through an intense solicitation, do you change the board?

A: There’s a lot of pieces to that. But let me just take a few of them and hopefully do the best I can.

Stocks go up and down. It’s not unusual — in the day that you announce that you’re doing something — that one stock to go up, one stock to go down. That’s pretty customary. That happened with every single thing Comcast has ever done. And yet — over 30 years — we’ve had double the S and P 500’s return to investors.

So there’s arbitration. There’s all sorts of things that happen. I don’t … I’m not surprised by that. I think that what you have to do is make a case for is this a great company that could be put together? This is the beginning of that process. I have no idea what happens next. I think that the ball is in the hands of the Disney board. And hopefully people will see that this is a great combination. In the back?

Q: If Disney chooses to negotiate, do you plan a consent solicitation?

A: Yeah, we’re just not gonna go with any of those comments today. So take it for what we’ve done today as a good day’s work. And we are hopeful to make this as friendly and amicable as possible, as quickly as possible.

I think that they have signaled that they are looking at succession issues. I think lots of people have written they would love to get Steve Burke back. Well, not only that, but you get 21.5 million customers. You get the rest of us. You get a great balance sheet. And you get 30 years worth of work.

SB: And $5 billion …

BR: And a $5 billion premium. Not a bad day.

Q: If this merger were to take place, how long do you think it would take? And what will consumers benefit?

A: Okay. Um, I think that these things tend to take about a year. You know, for … Maybe a little less. But typically, that’s what about AT&T Broadband took. That’s what Newscorp / DirecTV took.

I think what consumers get is very … is a great question. Is pretty fundamental.

First of all, consumers want to control … the Internet, to me, proves that consumers want to be able to control what they get, when they get it, how they get it. They want access to lots and they want to do it on their schedule. And there are billions and billions of websites that have thrived with giving people choice.

Comcast has all been about — since 1962 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Where the company got its first community antennae television system — was giving people more choice in television. Today, we offer hundreds of channels. Tomorrow, we want to give you video on demand.

We’ve doing video on demand in Philadelphia for about 9 months now,a year. We have 3000 hours plus of content available. Some of it’s NBC, some of it’s cable channels, some of it is HBO on demand, movies. Not a fully rich line-up. But it’s a start.

The average digital customer in Philadelphia inn the last month, January, half the customer used video on demand 13 times a month on average. We believe the way people interact with their television is absolutely going to change in the future. And consumers want to get the content …

Well, high definition sets are selling 10 to 20 thousand a week. High definition subscriptions. Broadband? We’re selling 30,000 hook-ups a week the last year. More than we thought and more than we did the year before.

The content — the richness of the sports, the movies, the news, ABC. All the wonderful content changing and being experimental. And moving windows, letting people have on their high definition TV sets. Yeah, you can get there eventually.

But if you’re in one company working together, it accelerates that. And I really believe that it’s a competitive world. We are trying to give the consumers choice. That’s who’s going to win.

We have satellite. 20 million homes in America bought a satellite dish. DSL from the phone companies competes with our high speed internet. Disney competes against other content companies. And the question is: By working together, can you make your products more desirable to customers? And then they’re going to take it.

Steve, you wanna add something to that?

Alright. Let’s do one more question. Ah … Over there in the corner.

Q: Steve, you talked about redundancies. Do you have projections of jobs eliminated and/or jobs gained in the merger?

A: No, we don’t have specific projections. What we mentioned was that there were about $300 to $400 million worth of cost reductions due to overlap. That represents — I think — less than 1% of the combined company and that overlap would be in very specific areas.

The vast majority of employees of both companies that work in the Disney parks or work in the ABC side of the business … By the way, we have great respect for many, many people. Many of whom I know at Disney and ABC and ESPN, There are wonderful people in that company.

This would not affect the vast majority of their employees nor would it affect ours.

Thank you very much, everyone.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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