NBC’s broadcast network is reviving faster than Comcast expected and represents “our biggest upside in the near term,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke told an investment conference this morning. Since Comcast bought a 51% stake in NBCU in January, “most of the things that have changed have changed for the better.” He says that the national ad business remains “very strong” — with spots for the 2012 Super Bowl nearly sold out. Although there are growing signs that the economy may weaken or stagnate, Burke told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference that NBC can improve once it gets the respect he says the network deserves from advertisers. He says unit prices for NBC’s ads “are discounted heavily, up to 25%” vs. ABC, CBS, and Fox. If NBC develops more must-see shows then the gap should narrow and “you can imagine hundreds of millions (of dollars) in EBITDA coming in.” Burke adds that NBC-owned stations also are “significantly less profitable than we need to be” and that “there’s no reason” that Spanish-language network Telemundo can’t reach a bigger audience. Burke also is upbeat about revenues from the networks’ and stations retransmission consent deals with cable and satellite distributors — including Comcast. The exec says that some of that cash will go back into programming. The network’s previous owner, General Electric, “had not been as enthusiastic about the business and had not been as willing to invest as we are.”
Comcast also is pushing to find synergies between NBC and other parts of the company. “We don’t look at NBC as a stand-alone anymore,” he says. He added that “the world is very different” now than it was a few years ago when NBC operations were run by larger-than-life personalities such as Dick Ebersol in sports and Andy Lack in news. “You have to start from the premise that every executive in the company will work with everyone else.” Burke says the teamwork paid off when Comcast heavily promoted NBC’s The Voice. “In Comcast markets The Voice had ratings that were 45% higher than in non-Comcast markets.”
At Universal’s film studio, Burke says that he was disappointed by sales for Cowboys And Aliens and The Change Up. He added that ”the film business is tougher today than it was a few years ago” largely due to declining DVD sales. But he says the studio still can improve by making more movies that appeal to global audiences, and by coordinating promotional efforts across Comcast. He also says he’s “bullish” about the Universal Studios theme parks even though “it was probably the last thing on our list” of interests when Comcast bought its NBCU stake. There’s been no slip in the 40%-to-50% uptick in attendance in Orlando following the opening last year of its Wizarding World Of Harry Potter attraction.