Comcast Corp. dates back to 1963, when businessman Ralph Roberts got into the cable TV business in its early days. He spent $500,000 for American Cable Systems, a company in Tupelo, Miss., that strung up cable to carry TV broadcasts to homes that couldn't get clear reception over the free airwaves.

Comcast Corp. dates back to 1963, when businessman Ralph Roberts got into the cable TV business in its early days. He spent $500,000 for American Cable Systems, a company in Tupelo, Miss., that strung up cable to carry TV broadcasts to homes that couldn’t get clear reception over the free airwaves.

Later the former New Yorker incorporated Comcast – named for “communications” and “broadcast” – closer to home in Pennsylvania, and expanded it by acquiring other cable TV providers. In 1990, Roberts’ son, Brian, became president. He accelerated the company’s expansion.

In 2002 Comcast spent $47.5 billion for AT&T’s cable division. Comcast now has 23.5 million subscribers in 39 states and Washington, D.C., and serves a quarter of the nation’s households with pay-TV service.

Under Brian Roberts, Comcast has not been content to be a mere distributor of programming. It has gained ownership of regional sports channels, the E! Entertainment network, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Flyers.

In 2004 Roberts made a dramatic stab at grabbing ownership of even more programming: He launched a $54 billion hostile bid for Walt Disney Co. Disney blocked it. Comcast’s own shareholders didn’t show much enthusiasm for the deal, either.

By taking control of NBC Universal, Roberts will get another chance to achieve his dream of melding ownership of TV shows and movies and distribution on a very large scale.