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Comcast CEO says ‘chaos’ inevitable with Olympics

Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts speaking at an a cable television conference in 2013.
Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts speaking at an a cable television conference in 2013. Associated Press/2013

Ask Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts if he’s nervous about Brazil hosting the Summer Olympics in August, and the answer is an unequivocal yes.

The cable giant’s NBCUniversal subsidiary will once again be broadcasting the Summer Games, and Roberts said concerns are natural with such a global competition.

“There is always a lot of questions and chaos,” Roberts said Monday at The Internet & Television Expo, a big trade show being held this week at the Boston Convention & and Exhibition Center. “And there is always some potential worries.”

But anxiety seems to be running unusually high for the games in Rio de Janeiro, from whether the water is clean enough for swimmers to whether the dangerous Zika virus carried by mosquitoes will keep athletes and spectators away. Then last week the Brazilian Senate voted to suspend and impeach the country’s president amid a corruption probe.

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“Hopefully Zika will recede more than accelerate, the politics will settle down rather than destabilize,” Roberts said. “But I can’t do too much.”

Roberts was in Boston to unveil details about NBCUniversal’s coverage this summer, which will feature 6,000 hours spanning 306 events on 11 networks. Everything will be live-streamed, and cable subscribers for the first time will also be able to watch live Olympic events on demand. Comcast paid about $1.23 billion for the US media rights for the Rio games.

Roberts said his hope-for-the-best attitude comes from knowing that the competition attracts not only the world’s top athletes, but also the best people handling logistics from traffic to safety.

“You can’t let your guard down. In the world we live in, it can be any day, at any event ... but I believe it will be safe,” said Roberts. “I am going with my family, and I can’t wait.”

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As for production hiccups with so much coverage of this year’s Olympics, Roberts acknowledged viewers can probably expect some.

“Will there be issues? Of course. That much live there will be some glitches, I’m sure,” he said. “But we’re confident it’s going to be a winner.”

For NBCUniversal, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was a ratings bonanza watched by 217 million Americans across its networks. In March, NBCUniversal garnered more than $1 billion in national advertising sales for its coverage of the 2016 games – four months ahead when the London games reached that figure.

A year ago, Boston was the United States Olympic Committee’s choice to host the 2024 Summer Games, but the city’s bid collapsed amid dwindling public support and the lack of a government guarantee. The USOC then gave the nod to Los Angeles, which has twice hosted the Summer Olympics.

With Comcast making a big bet on the Olympics coverage, is Roberts rooting for any particular host city?

“Boston made its own decision. It is not easy to stage an Olympics. Better to know that sooner than later that it wasn’t going to be right for Boston at this time,” Roberts said. “We’re all behind LA now.”


Shirley Leung can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.