This could provide an important boost for the effort that Comcast and Twitter announced in October to strengthen social media users’ bond with TV shows. The companies say that as early as Q1 content suppliers ABC Entertainment, A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Crown Media, Discovery, and Fox Networks will join the initiative — as will distributors Cablevision, Charter, and Time Warner Cable. (Comcast-owned NBCUniversal is already on board, of course.) The way it works: When a Twitter user discusses a TV show, a “SEEIt” button will show up on the tweet. Readers using a mobile device who click on the button can instruct the set top box to take them directly to the show (live or on demand) — just as they would with a remote control — or watch online if available, set a DVR to record it, or simply create a reminder to watch. Comcast is “encouraged by the early results during our ‘preview’ period,” says Chief Business Development Officer Sam Schwartz. “These new partners will help enhance the experience by allowing more consumers to conveniently tune, record, or watch their favorite shows and movies from the places they’re discovering them.”
The No. 1 cable company says that it has overcome the biggest obstacle: its inability to provide up-to-date commercials in older episodes of TV series. Since advertisers wouldn’t pay for viewers watching obsolete spots, the networks providing the shows couldn’t profit from VOD users who wanted to catch up with a series. But today Comcast says that it’s teaming with Nielsen to test a product for its Xfinity platform that it calls On Demand Commercial Ratings (ODCR). It enables Comcast to insert new ads into old shows, and for Nielsen to then count the people who view the spots in the three days after they first appear. (The jargon term for that is C3). “This could have pretty profound implications in the market,” says Comcast SVP Matt Strauss. “If it gets adopted it means the industry would move from selling an episode to selling a series. No matter whether you’re watching last night’s episode or your wife is watching one from a month ago — as long as you’re watching during the C3 window, you’re both going to see the exact same ads.”
VOD is a big deal for Comcast, he says, because it’s “a platform that’s unique to cable. Satellite doesn’t have on-demand.” (Actually DirecTV and Dish Network do, but customers also need an Internet connection to tell the company what they want to watch.) In addition, Comcast wants to short-circuit technologies such as Dish’s Hopper DVR that encourage viewers to …
Consumer advocates are horrified by the thought that Comcast, possibly in conjunction with Charter Communications, might become even bigger than it already is by engineering a deal to buy Time Warner Cable. But two Wall Street analysts say this morning that this would make sense financially — and probably would pass muster with federal regulators. TWC shares closed on Friday at $132.92, and investors might see an offer of $160 if Comcast and Charter decide to team up to buy TWC and divide the spoils, Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says. She envisions Comcast taking 67 TWC markets with 7.4M subscribers, mostly in the east (including Manhattan), while Charter could end up with 20 markets that have 4.5M subs (including Los Angeles). Even though Comcast is the No. 1 cable operator and also owns NBCUniversal, Ryvicker says the feds might allow it to grow. There’s no formal cap on cable subscriptions — in 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the 30% limit. And since Comcast and TWC don’t compete with each other in any markets “it would be tough to see an outright objection [on antitrust grounds] from either the FTC or DOJ.” The FCC is a different story, since it can weigh broader questions about the public interest. Yet Comcast could argue that — because it owns NBCU — it wouldn’t abuse the clout it would have to demand lower programming prices. Comcast might have to accept a lot of conditions and restrictions. Still, Ryvicker doesn’t see it “walking away from an opportunity that could reap significant long term benefits.”
Consolidation talk was everywhere today, and investors believe that there’s something to it. Following reports this AM that Comcast and Charter Communications are weighing individual bids for Time Warner Cable, Bloomberg says that the potential buyers have also discussed the possibility of jointly going after the No. 2 cable operator — and then divvying up its systems. For example, it might make sense for Charter to take Time Warner Cable‘s properties in Los Angeles while Comcast could take the prized system in Manhattan. That could solve a lot of problems for the companies: Comcast might be able to grow without alarming the federal regulators that it would become too big. And Charter, which is much smaller, could scratch its itch to become a major industry power without having to take on an onerous amount of debt. All of this talk provided a jolt to cable stocks on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at an all-time high of 16,065. The 0.3% uptick vs yesterday pales next to the changes at Time Warner Cable (+10%), Charter (+6.1%), Cablevision (+5.9%), Comcast (+4.4%) — and even satellite companies Dish Network (+4.2%) and DirecTV (+3.3%).
Cable companies are notoriously tin-eared when it comes to dealing with consumers. But Comcast hopes to show that it can win movie-lovers’ hearts and cash by selling electronic versions of films and TV shows — a business that’s now dominated by Apple’s iTunes and Amazon. The cable giant should begin to sell a few hundred movies and TV shows movies and TV shows to its 20M Xfinity digital customers by year end, I’m told. (The industry term for this is Electronic Sell-Through, or EST.) The main selling point is that Comcast subs will be able to buy the content via their set top boxes, and watch on their TV sets, without the need for an additional device to link them to the Web. Adding cable or satellite companies to the retail mix is “really going to open up amazing opportunities,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer told analysts last week, teasing Comcast’s expected announcement.
Time Warner startled a lot of people recently when it allowed the No. 1 cable operator to include HBO Go in a new $40 a month broadband service. Wouldn’t some consumers cancel their pay TV service if they found that they can watch the channel’s shows without a subscription to basic cable? But CEO Jeff Bewkes says he isn’t worried. “It’s pretty limited,” he told analysts today in a conference call to discuss Q3 earnings. “It won’t be attractive to most people, but might appeal to a segment.” He wouldn’t discuss terms of the deal, or speculate about how many channels a broadband-only service could offer before programmers would demand that the carrier pick up all of them — basically, replicating the pay TV bundle. “It’s something we don’t have to be concerned about” just yet. “Of all the network groups, we have the highest proportion in the top 40″ with 80% of the company’s cable network revenues coming from TNT, TBS, CNN and Cartoon Network. If a broadband provider tried to develop a best-of-cable package “our networks would be in there.” Meanwhile, Bewkes says that HBO’s having “a great year” with subscription growth.
The animation hit helped to offset some of the expected weakness at NBC‘s broadcasting unit, which faced tough comparisons with last year when it had the London Olympics. All told, net income attributable to Comcast came in at $1.73B, -18% vs last year’s Q3, on revenues of $16.15B, -2.4%. The top-line figure is lower than the $16.25B analysts had expected. But earnings at 65 cents a share beat forecasts for 61 cents. NBCUniversal was a mixed bag with revenues falling 14.2% to $5.85B and operating cash flow +9.6% to $1.25B — though the company says revenues would have been +3.9% if you factor out the contributions from last year’s Olympics. The cable networks showed 4.0% revenue growth to $2.24B, helped by a 5.4% increase in affiliate fees and 4.6% increase in ad sales — but a 6.5% drop in content licensing. NBC broadcasting needed more explaining with revenues -41.1% to $1.64B. The loss of the $1.2B from the Olympics overshadowed a 2.6% increase in retransmission consent fees and an equal increase in ad revenue. The filmed entertainment unit had a simpler story with revenues +3.3% to $1.4B — but operating cash flow +164.1% to $189M. Despicable Me 2 drove the results, though it was offset somewhat by lower home entertainment results as the studio had fewer releases this quarter than it had last year.
This is a big upgrade for Comcast subscribers who have Apple or Android mobile devices with the company’s Xfinity TV Go app — the new name for its Xfinity TV Player App. At some point over the next two weeks they’ll be able to stream about 35 channels and 25,000 VOD choices including when they’re away from home. In addition, Comcast says that thousands of movies and TV shows will be available to be downloaded. Cable and satellite companies consider out-of-home viewing to be a key feature for their TV Everywhere initiatives — but some programmers have insisted that they be paid extra for those rights. Channels available to mobile streamers will include BBC World News, beIN Sport, beIN Sport Español, Big Ten Network, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes, ESPNews, ESPNU, Fox Business Channel, Fox News Channel, Fox Sports 1, FX, FXX, Golf Channel, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild, NBC Sports Network and Pac-12 Networks. “Television isn’t just about the living room anymore,” says Charlie Herrin, Comcast Cable’s SVP for Product Design and Development. There’s one quirk in the system, though: Streaming will be available via WiFi and Verizon Wireless’ broadband network — but not on AT&T, Sprint, or TMobile. The cable company and Verizon have an agreement to cross-promote each other’s services in markets where they don’t compete head-to-head.
Cine Sony Television, Sony Pictures Television’s network delivering content in Spanish, today announced a distribution pact with Comcast’s Xfinity TV cable service. Beginning today, Xfinity TV customers will have access to Cine Sony Television’s films, music and TV series, uncut and commercial free, in Spanish. Cine Sony Television is available on Xfinity’s Latino TV package, and select Cine Sony TV films will be available on Xfinity on Demand and online. Launched in August 2012, Cine Sony Television delivers films from Sony Pictures and other studios, as well as television series and music programming, and on-demand content, through its distribution partners, now including Comcast, Cox Communications and Verizon FiOS.
NBCUniversal and Comcast have named Maggie McLean Suniewick their SVP Strategic Integration. She will spearhead NBCUniversal’s key “Symphony” initiatives across the company’s properties and with Comcast Corp, which owns NBCU. By “Symphony,” Comcast is referring to the companwide marketing initiative to promote upcoming NBCU programming, movies and events, including the Olympics, as well as Comcast’s products and services, across the portfolio to drive awareness and help connect with consumers. In addition, Symphony projects include major strategic initiatives like the conglom’s TV Everywhere efforts. Suniewick will report to NBCU CEO Steve Burke and Neil Smit, President and CEO of Comcast Cable and EVP of Comcast Corp. From today’s announcement:
UPDATED: John Malone’s company will give Wall Street a lot to talk about today. Shares in Liberty-controlled Sirius XM are already up about 2% in pre-market trading after it said that it will add $2B to its share repurchase program, which will include a buy-back of $500M worth of Liberty’s stake. That will leave the media holding company with 52% of the satellite radio service. In addition to that deal, Liberty says it recently completed a transaction to recover 6.3M of its shares that Comcast held. In return for its stock, the cable giant picked up Leisure Arts Inc, $417M in cash, and Liberty’s rights to a revenue-sharing deal with CNBC. Liberty also says that it will sell $500M in debt to help it pay off what it calls “privately negotiated cash convertible note hedge and warrant transactions.” It warns that the process of unwinding those deals “could have the effect of decreasing the trading price” of Liberty’s stock. In addition to all that, Liberty Interactive — a separate company that Malone controls — said that it will create a tracking stock for QVC (along with its 38% interest in HSN), and spin off its 57% voting stake in TripAdvisor. The new company will be called — what else? — Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings. The transactions are complicated and expected to be tax-free — characteristics of most Malone deals. Investors will hear more about …
Sometime in November people who discuss TV shows or movies on Twitter will see a “See It” button. If they click on it, it will give them options to watch the show or, if it’s a current movie, buy a ticket via Comcast-owned Fandango. This will be a national service, but Comcast subscribers will be able to do things via their set-top boxes that others can’t. That includes using a mobile device as a remote control to switch directly to a TV show — something that could be especially useful when there’s breaking news. Comcast Chief Business Development Officer Sam Schwartz tells me that the company is “in advanced conversations” with other cable and satellite companies to include their set-top boxes as well. He adds that while the initiative will begin on Twitter, it could soon include other social network platforms. Initially the “See It” button will appear on tweets that have links to TV shows and movies, but the companies are working to include messages with hashtags about entertainment — and eventually to recognize when the text concerns a TV show or movie.
This could be a coup for Twitter. Last week it kicked off an effort to go public — and crowed in an SEC filing about its value as “a second screen for television programming” adding that ads on Twitter complement “offline advertising campaigns, such as television ads.” On Monday Nielsen formally unveiled its plan to count the number of people who read and write tweets about TV shows, which it says provides valuable information about how a program might perform. The new partnership with Comcast includes an arrangement for NBCUniversal to participate in Twitter’s Amplify program to embed sponsored video clips in tweets. The companies say that they are “exploring additional opportunities to integrate social TV conversations into Comcast’s X1 platform – the company’s entertainment operating system.”
Here’s the release:
The new agreement expands on a deal Comcast had to show CBS programs on demand. The change will give the cable company’s Xfinity On Demand and Xfinity Streampix users opportunities to watch all past seasons of The Good Wife and WB’s Charmed. Those who want to skip the ads are out of luck: Comcast disables fast-forwarding for the broadcast content. The additional showings on Streampix “will enable more fans to catch up on past episodes” while giving CBS “yet another way to monetize our content.” says Scott Koondel, the network’s Chief Corporate Content Licensing Officer. But nothing is simple in deals that involve new platforms: Some CBS shows including 2 Broke Girls, Person Of Interest, The Mentalist, and newcomers The Crazy Ones and Mom will be available on VOD and at Xfinity.com, but not via Streampix. CBS will add shows “to provide viewers more opportunities to catch up,” the companies say.
Comcast has purchased 10 Universal City Plaza, the 35-story building that sits adjacent to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and the headquarters of Universal Pictures. “NBCUniversal continues to explore real estate opportunities as they arise near its ongoing business operations in Universal City. The company proceeded with purchasing 10 UCP given the current market conditions, the building is at the gateway to our property, and NBCUniversal is currently the majority tenant”, the company said today in a statement. NBCUniversal declined to discuss financial details, but the Los Angeles Times reported the property sold for about $420 million. Deadline was told that the purchase does not impact NBCUniversal’s 25-year Evolution Plan which includes The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, as well as new and upgraded TV production facilities, office space and infrastructure on the Universal Studios lot. The company will be determining in the coming months how best to utilize the new space.
UPDATED 5:34 PM: Comcast has issued a statement on the FCC’s decision. “We are disappointed that the FCC failed to constrain the Media Bureau’s overly broad construction of the News Neighborhooding Condition,” says Sena Fitzmaurice, the company’s VP Government Communications. “As it is currently being interpreted, the condition goes well beyond the express language of the FCC’s Comcast-NBCUniversal Order and what is justified by the evidence in that case. The FCC’s interpretation very likely will lead to significant and unwarranted burdens on us, our customers, and other programming networks. We are evaluating our options.”
PREVIOUSLY: Bloomberg TV prevailed on the main points in its multi-year dispute with Comcast, although it didn’t win everything it wanted. Regulators upheld an order from their Media Bureau last year that established Bloomberg’s right to be grouped with other news channels on the dials of Comcast’s cable systems in the 35 largest TV markets. The FCC decision hearkens to an agreement that Comcast made in 2011 when it was eager to win FCC approval for its deal to control NBCUniversal. The cable giant said it wouldn’t discriminate against competitors. Bloomberg TV said that’s exactly what Comcast did when it maintained the business news channel’s position far from CNBC — which Comcast acquired with the NBCU deal.
CFO Michael Angelakis didn’t offer details, but he told investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference that Comcast expects Jeff Shell to “change some things” at Universal following his surprise appointment this month to run the studio. It made sense to to take advantage of Shell’s experience running NBCUniversal International because “international is a much bigger component now” for film revenues. That’s important as sales of DVDs have plummeted creating what Angelakis referred to as “structural challenges.” Comcast wants to run “a pretty profitable film studio,” which he says swung from a loss of $70M year-to-date loss last year to a $100M gain so far in 2013. One big question: “How do we build a slate that has a modest risk?” Part of the formula, he says, is to load up on animation, with help from Illumination Entertainment, and sequels.
NEW YORK, September 19, 2013 – NBCUniversal today announced the appointment of Comcast executive Marlene Sanchez Dooner to Executive Vice President, Hispanic Enterprises & Content (HEC). Dooner will report to Joe Uva, Chairman, Hispanic Enterprises & Content, NBCUniversal. She currently serves as Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at Comcast Corporation and will transition to NBCUniversal in New York at the end of this year.
In this newly created position, Dooner will work closely with Uva to develop the company’s initiatives and new business opportunities in the Hispanic marketplace across NBCUniversal’s networks and platforms. Additionally, she will oversee financial planning, strategic initiatives and business development for the company’s Hispanic franchises, including Telemundo and mun2.
“Marlene’s impressive experience navigating and analyzing the media business will help us drive new opportunities and partnerships in the U.S. Hispanic community across the company,” said Uva. “NBCUniversal’s portfolio reaches more than 90 percent of all Hispanics and I have no doubt Marlene will play an integral role in expanding our offerings and connections to the fastest growing segment of the population.”
The Tennis Channel will not be getting its day in court again, but the ball is still in play. Without explanation, the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Wednesday denied the channel’s dual request for an en banc rehearing or a panel rehearing of a May 28 ruling on anti-competitive tactics by Comcast (read it here). Needless to say, the Tennis Channel isn’t happy. “The U.S. Circuit Court decision today effectively strips the FCC of the ability to perform the role Congress requires,” said the channel in a statement. “We are disappointed with this result and intend to pursue further review.” In the decision this spring, the court overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s July 2012 ruling that Comcast discriminated against the Tennis Channel in favor of the cable giant’s Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network. Currently on a tier with around 3 million subscribers, the specialty channel has been trying since 2010 to be placed on Comcast’s basic service and reach over 21 million subscribers.