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A New Cable Giant


Roberts is as confident as the next CEO when it comes to his company's performance. But he's reluctant to talk about lofty goals. In fact, he says he has pretty much junked the notion for now. As he puts it: "I don't get to relish this deal. I have to deliver." But his hesitancy to articulate what the company will look like in five years makes some people nervous. "Brian has to figure out, and fast, if he wants to be predominantly a distribution company or run a content company, enhanced by distribution, like supermen Rupert Murdoch and Mel Karmazin do," says Hindery. There is talk about Roberts buying Disney one day, though not a word from him. But who can blame Roberts for hanging back when so many media moguls with grand visions have been shown the door?

Of course, right now he simply doesn't have the money to do much of anything. A purchase the size of, say, a TV network is unaffordable; even something smaller would be unpalatable. Instead, Roberts will keep launching lower-profile cable channels, which he can count on breaking even almost immediately, given his 21 million subscribers. And he'll use his new influence to secure more favorable deals for the content he has to buy: Roberts expects to cut $500 million from programming costs. "No doubt there'll be new tensions in the relationships between distribution and programming companies," says AT&T Comcast board member Decker Anstrom, president of Landmark Communications Inc., which owns the Weather Channel.

These days, it's hard to say who has the toughest job in the business. But heading the country's largest cable company puts Roberts in the running, especially since he has placed the family business in a tough financial position at a time of skepticism about his industry. When Roberts said he doesn't have time to savor the AT&T deal, he wasn't just being modest. It's a good thing he didn't get into this for the glamour.

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