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NBCU Says Its Strong Upfront Ad Sales Cut Pricing Gap With Competition

NBCU Says Its Strong Upfront Ad Sales Cut Pricing Gap With CompetitionNBC and cable networks led by USA “were trading at a 20% discount to our competition” in the cost-per-viewer of ad sales before the recent upfront market, NBCU chief Steve Burke told analysts this morning. “We’re now at about a 10% discount.” Comcast‘s entertainment arm says it bucked a trend in the upfront — seen as generally down 5% vs last year — as it benefits from the growing popularity of its shows, and a decision to sell broadcast and cable ad inventory together. “If the industry was down 5% and we were up 10%, that’s a 15% difference vs what we would have done” if NBCU had sold broadcast and cable separately. “It’s a swing of $750M” that will go “a long way toward closing monetization gap.”
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Comcast Reports Mixed Q2 Financials As NBCU Films Slip, Offsetting TV Strength

By | Tuesday July 22, 2014 @ 4:13am PDT

Comcast Reports Mixed Q2 Financials As NBCU Films Slip, Offsetting TV StrengthComcast has become so big and complex that its earnings are almost always mixed — and Q2 was no exception, although the combination of soft revenue growth with strong profits sent shares up 2.1% in pre-market trading. The cable giant reported net income of $2.03B, +16.1% vs the period last year, on revenues of $16.84B, +3.5%. Analysts expected the top line to come in a little higher, at $16.95B. But earnings at 76 cents a share handily beat the consensus forecast of 72 cents.

NBCUniversal also seemed to have a split personality with operating cash flow +20.4% to $1.43B while revenues were +0.3% to $6.02B. The main Cable Networks operation saw sales grow 2.6% to $2.48B with affiliate fees +4.2% while ad sales fell 2.2%. Still, by controlling costs, the unit’s operating cash flow rose 6.3% to $914M. The Broadcast Television unit told a similar story: With rising retransmission consent fees, its revenues increased 4.9% to $1.8B. Image (4) the-voice-judges__140601175730-275x183.jpg for post 738728But ad sales fell 1.7%, which the network partly attributes to having fewer hours of The Voice than it had last year. Still, broadcast operating cash flow increased 16.2% to $240M reflecting, the company says, “a slight increase in operating costs and expenses.” Theme Parks proved to be NBCU’s most consistent performer despite the increased costs for Orlando’s The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley attraction which opened this month. Attendance and spending were both up, resulting in a 12.8% increase in revenues to $615M with … Read More »

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Deadline Q&A: Can Matt Strauss’ Hollywood Deals Help Comcast Defend Cable?

By | Monday July 21, 2014 @ 11:34am PDT

Deadline Q&A: Can Matt Strauss’ Hollywood Deals Help Comcast Defend Cable?Matthew Strauss isn’t a household name in Hollywood yet. But he should be, and possibly will be soon. As Comcast Cable’s GM of Video Services, Strauss oversees the cable colossus’ Xfinity cloud-based X1 platform, video on demand, TV Everywhere, and — starting last year — sales of digitally downloadable movies and TV shows (known as Electronic Sell Through). In other words, he leads the cable industry’s counter-offensive as digital services led by Netflix and ad-zapping DVRs make inroads with pay TV consumers.

Studios and networks are taking notice, and striking deals with Strauss that push the boundaries of technology, and traditional business practices. For example, Comcast and FX have just begun to let VOD customers watch episodes of The Bridge a week before they appear on the channel itself. Deadline caught up with Strauss to find out the latest about that experiment and others that could reshape the medium. Here are his thoughts, edited for length and clarity.

DEADLINE: VOD has been one of Comcast’s top initiatives. Where do things stand?
STRAUSS: I have a long history with VOD. I’ve been working on this for almost 13 years now. About 70% of our digital subscribers use on demand every single month, and by the end of this year we’ll have 200,000 hours of on-demand content available. We surpassed our 30 billionth program viewed on demand last year. So this is something that has gone from almost an infancy, novelty kind of product and now is deeply entrenched. For the first time we now have the top 100 rated Nielsen shows … Read More »

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Fox-Time Warner News Colors Senate Committee Look At Online Video; Netflix’s Reed Hastings Declines Invite

By | Wednesday July 16, 2014 @ 2:25pm PDT

Fox-Time Warner News Colors Senate Committee Look At Online Video; Netflix’s Reed Hastings Declines Invite“We’re in an arms race,” Public Knowledge CEO Gene Kimmelman told the Senate Commerce Committee at a hearing to explore the prospects for broadband video. It’s “no surprise, content companies bulk up” as Fox wants to do with its $80B bid for Time Warner, which was rejected by the company but disclosed today. Following Comcast’s deal to buy Time Warner Cable, and AT&T’s with DirecTV, “consumers are between a rock and a hard place….They started the ball rolling and as we’ve seen from today’s stories, we don’t know where it’s going to end.”

Representatives from Comcast and AT&T indirectly debated with execs from Dish Network, the WGA, and Kimmelman over whether online video providers have to fear mergers or need strong net neutrality rules. Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W Va) ended the proceedings by arguing for municipal broadband to provide a low-cost option for poor residents. He also said that he invited Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who declined to show. “I can’t figure [it] out because I’m trying to help them, I think. But he didn’t want to be here.”

Dish says that later this year it plans to introduce a low-priced online video service that will include live streams of ESPN, and could be threatened by the union of the two largest cable companies. “Comcast doesn’t necessarily want us to succeed because we’re competitors,” says the satellite company’s Deputy General Counsel Jeffrey Blum. “We are very concerned that a combined Comcast and Time Warner Cable will have an incentive and ability to stifle our service.” Read More »

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Comcast And The Customer Rep From Hell

By | Tuesday July 15, 2014 @ 10:18am PDT

Comcast And The Customer Rep From HellComcast execs had better take the recording below seriously, because in the last few hours it has become an Internet phenomenon — an example of almost everything that many consumers hate about the cable-broadband giant and its bureaucracy. It was made last week by tech journalist Ryan Block after his wife called Comcast to cancel their broadband service (they wanted to switch providers) and were transferred to a customer retention rep who refused to comply and hectored them with patronizing talking points. The recording starts about 10 minutes into the conversation, Block writes, after the Comcast rep “continued aggressively repeating his questions, despite the answers given, to the point where my wife became so visibly upset she handed me the phone.”

Comcast says it’s “embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and [is] contacting him to personally apologize.” But the company adds that the rep was an outlier: His hectoring questions and refusal to simply cancel the service were “not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.” Read More »

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FCC Starts Clock On Comcast’s Deals With Time Warner Cable And Charter

By | Thursday July 10, 2014 @ 12:50pm PDT

FCC Starts Clock On Comcast’s Deals With Time Warner Cable And CharterAnd they’re off…The FCC officially started its informal 180-day clock to review Comcast‘s planned $42B acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and its side deals to transfer systems to Charter Communications and a new spinoff entity temporarily (I hope) called Spinco. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and his four fellow commissioners set an August 25 deadline for comments and petitions to deny the applications. Parties must respond by September 23, and replies to those comments are due October 8. Although the FCC wants to reach a decision within 180 days, regulators often stop the clock if they need additional time to sort through issues on major deals. Read More »

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Charlie Ergen Urges FCC To Stop Comcast From Buying Time Warner Cable

By | Wednesday July 9, 2014 @ 12:48pm PDT

Charlie Ergen Urges FCC To Stop Comcast From Buying Time Warner CableThe Dish Network chairman made his plea on Monday in meetings with all five FCC commissioners and several staffers, according to a Dish filing today. Comcast’s $45B deal for Time Warner Cable “presents serious competitive concerns for the broadband and video marketplaces and therefore should be denied,” Dish told regulators, according to its account of the talks. “There do not appear to be any conditions that would remedy the harms that would result from the merger.” Charlie Ergen said that Comcast could hobble Internet video services at three choke points: The cable company would control last-mile connection to the home and the point where content providers access Comcast’s network. In addition, it could squeeze potential rivals by devoting lots of its web capacity to special high-speed lanes for favored services. “Each choke point provides the ability for the combined company to foreclose the online video offerings of its competitors,” the filing says. Read More »

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DeadlineNow: FCC Signals Hard Look At Proposed Mega-Mergers (Video)

By | Tuesday July 8, 2014 @ 12:58pm PDT
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FCC Taps Economist Who Opposed Comcast's Acquisition Of NBCUniversal To Oversee Proposed Mega-Mergers

Deadline's David Lieberman looks at the FCC's choice to oversee the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV mergers.

Related:
FCC Picks Critic Of Comcast’s NBCU Acquisition To Review Its Time Warner Cable Deal

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FCC Picks Critic Of Comcast’s NBCU Acquisition To Review Its Time Warner Cable Deal

By | Monday July 7, 2014 @ 12:21pm PDT

FCC Picks Critic Of Comcast’s NBCU Acquisition To Review Its Time Warner Cable DealComcast needs no introduction to the economist who the FCC tapped today to help regulators sort through the cable giant’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable, and AT&T’s for DirecTV: Former FCC Chief Economist William Rogerson, now a professor at Northwestern University, was an important opponent of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. He wrote at least three reports in 2010 that challenged Comcast’s economic analysis and concluded that the deal would hurt consumers. One, which he wrote on behalf of the American Cable Association, estimated that the reduction in competition from a combined Comcast-NBCU likely would lead pay TV customers to pay an additional $316.8M a year. That meant “the harm of this transaction is more than ten times as large as the benefit,” he said at the time.
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NBCU’s 30 Rock Will Get Retro Refit As Comcast Crowns RCA Building

By | Wednesday June 25, 2014 @ 9:56am PDT

NBCU’s 30 Rock Will Get Retro Refit As Comcast Crowns RCA BuildingComcast logoJust as Comcast moves forward with its plan to replace the GE sign atop the former RCA building with its own name and the NBC Peacock logo, NBCUniversal today announced a major overhaul and rehabilitation of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. A desire to “celebrate the storied past of one of the most iconic buildings in entertainment history,” the company said, the plan calls for the re-creation of the original Art Deco-era design of the NBC portion of the lobby while adding high-tech upgrades “to reinforce 30 Rock as a state-of-the art entertainment destination – and a center for the creative industries for many decades to come.”

The sweeping 16-foot-wide, marble Grand Stair that originally led from the lobby to the mezzanine level will return, along with a recreation of the Mezzanine Rotunda, which will be a “grand circular reception lobby in the style of the original 1930s-era lobby design.” Also in the works, a “Peacock Lounge,” i.e., waiting room for audience hopefuls for Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night With Seth Meyers and The Meredith Vieira Show.

RotundaMezzRendering“The re-development of the Grand Stair and Mezzanine Rotunda, coupled with the modernization of our studios, is an homage to the original designers of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and an affirmation of our belief that the true golden age of this legendary broadcast facility lies not only in the past, but in … Read More »

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Twitter SEEiT Feature Connects Tweets, TV Shows

By | Sunday June 15, 2014 @ 2:19pm PDT

Twitter logoTwitter lights up during big TV events such as the Super Bowl, Olympics and the Oscars, but can the social-media platform deliver users directly to the tube? Comcast and Twitter are betting it can with SEEiT, a button embedded in tweets that actually can change the channel from a user’s smartphone or tablet or set a DVR to record a show. The platform works with shows from ABC, A&E, AMC, Fox, NBC and others as well as set-top boxes from Comcast, Cablevision, Charter and Time Warner Cable.  “If you’re between 13 and 24, (social media) is probably the primary way you’re discovering things,” says Erik Flannigan, executive VP of multiplatform strategy and development for the Viacom Entertainment Group. That’s why Flannigan considers initiatives such as SEEiT to be “the tip of an iceberg.”

Comcast logoProgrammers are intrigued: Nearly half of viewers under 30 use computers, smartphones or tablets to visit social networks during their TV time, research from Deloitte recently reported. A separate study from the Council for Research Excellence found that viewers of specials, sci-fi shows, sports and movies are especially eager to simultaneously chat online with others. “TV networks fully understand, top to bottom, that their mission is to deliver that (social media experience) to you in a relationship that’s 24/7/365, and it … Read More »

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Will New York’s 30 Rock Become The Comcast Building?

By | Friday June 13, 2014 @ 8:44am PDT

GE SignThat’s appears to be the cable giant’s plan: The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will vote Tuesday on a proposed “certificate of appropriateness” allowing Comcast to install signs with its logo and NBC peacock at the Rockefeller Center art deco landmark, popularly known as the RCA Building. COMCASTThe current one says GE. But it sold the building to Comcast last year as part of a $1.4B agreement that transferred NBCUniversal’s real estate to the cable company when it also bought GE’s 49% stake in the entertainment power. The new signage proposal would replace the 24-foot-high red neon sign on top of the building with 12-foot high LED signs on the north and south exteriors — with the Comcast logo (which includes the NBC peacock) in white capital letters. The western facade would have a 17-foot-high peacock. In addition to the changes at the top of the building, Comcast wants to adapt the marquee on Sixth Avenue to showcase The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The building, completed in 1933, became an official landmark in 1985 and has served as a fixture for shows including Seinfeld and, of course, 30 Rock

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Reed Hastings: “We Have No Power” In Comcast Dealings

By | Thursday May 29, 2014 @ 1:34pm PDT

Reed-Hastings-at-CodeCon__140529160849-575x768Netflix cut a controversial deal with Comcast earlier this year to improve its shows’ transmission quality because it didn’t have a choice, said CEO Reed Hastings. But that didn’t mean Hastings liked it, or thought it was the right thing in the long run for either his company or the Internet as a whole. That’s why Hastings publicly criticized the deal less than two weeks after signing it, he said. “The basic thing is we have no power” over Comcast, Hastings said in discussing the deal at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. “We asked them for access [to their mutual Internet-using customers], and couldn’t get it. You might say, ‘Why did you compromise on the deal,’ and we would say, ‘We had to.’”

Related: Netflix Agrees To Pay Comcast For Broadband Access

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CEO Brian Roberts Says X1 Rollout Is Comcast’s Top Priority For 2014

By | Wednesday May 28, 2014 @ 12:06pm PDT

Brian Roberts seatedWell, presumably, that little $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable might also occupy some corporate attention, but Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said his company will focus on rolling out its prized X1 entertainment delivery platform and related Xfinity service. “Our priority this year is rolling out X1,” Roberts told attendees at the Code Conference today in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. “It’s a game-changer, and the reason it’s such a game-changer is that we’re taking the guts of what we do and putting it in the cloud. The stinking cable box is the wrong platform. The moment we leave that box in your household, it begins to become obsolete.”

Related: Comcast’s Brian Roberts: It Was “Now or Never” on Time Warner Cable Deal

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Comcast’s Brian Roberts: It Was “Now Or Never” On Time Warner Cable Deal

By | Wednesday May 28, 2014 @ 11:40am PDT

Brian Roberts with Walt Mossberg and Kara SwisherWith an aggressive Charter Communications takeover looming over Time Warner Cable, Comcast executives felt like they had only one chance if they wanted to buy the LA and NYC systems they didn’t already own, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at this morning’s Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. “Our judgment was the company was going to be sold and if we wanted New York and Los Angeles, it was now or never,” Roberts said. The company was trying to move beyond a persistent perception of it as a “regional cable provider” that hampered deals with potential partners such as Reed Hastings of Netflix in years past. Even with the big 2010 acquisition of NBCUniversal still being digested, the company needed to move fast with its $45.2 billion offer for TWC, which is still under regulatory review. Comcast also signed a $20 billion side deal to sell or swap out 3.9 million of the subscribers with Charter to further concentrate operations in big cities and keep below a self-imposed limit of 30 percent of the U.S. cable TV market. That deal is contingent on the main acquisition going through.

Related: CEO Brian Roberts Says X1 Rollout Is Comcast’s Top Priority For 2014

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New York Times Opposes Comcast – Time Warner Cable, A Break From Editorial Pack

By | Tuesday May 27, 2014 @ 11:30am PDT

Comcast Time Warner Cable merger logoThe media elite took notice this morning when The New York Times editorial board opposed Comcast‘s $45B acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Calling it “A Cable Merger Too Far” the lead editorial says: “The merger will concentrate too much market power in the hands of one company, creating a telecommunications colossus the likes of which the country has not seen since 1984 when the government forced the breakup of the original AT&T telephone monopoly.” The board signaled its likely conclusion in February when it said that regulators should not accept the pro-deal argument “without conducting a thorough investigation into what effect a merger between the country’s two largest cable companies would have on the media and the Internet.”

The change in the editorial view stands out because, well, it’s The Times — and therefore assumed to wield influence over any public policy debate. It adds establishment heft to the anti-deal case as the Justice Department and FCC weigh the merits, and politics, of their decisions.

But the editorial also is notable because it breaks from the major newspaper pack. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Philadelphia Inquirer (Comcast’s home town paper) have supported the merger. “Consolidation is the only way to ensure these companies have enough capital to invest in new and better technology that will keep their customers happy — or, at least, satisfied enough not to … Read More »

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Consumers Dislike Cable Companies More Than Any Other Industry: Report

American Customer Satisfaction IndexIt’s time for the pay TV industry’s annual slap in the face from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which surveys 70,000 people about the products and services they use most. Cable and satellite distributors always fare badly in these polls — but this year’s results are especially disturbing after a slight uptick last year. The companies’ pay TV services collectively scored 65 out of 100, down 4.4% from last year, making subscription TV the second-least liked of the 43 industries ACSI tracks. What’s worse? Internet service providers, with a score of 63, down 3.1% — and which mostly consists of the same companies. People ”question the value proposition as both, as consumers pay for more than they need in terms of subscription TV and get less than they want in terms of Internet speeds and reliability,” ACSI Chairman Claes Fornell says.

Related: Can Comcast Be Trusted? Company Report Says It Exceeded Promises In NBCU Deal

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Michael Willner Agrees To Run Comcast And Charter’s “SpinCo” Cable Company

By | Thursday May 15, 2014 @ 6:10am PDT

Michael WillnerStamford, CT and Philadelphia, PA – May 15, 2014 – Charter Communications, Inc. (Nasdaq: CHTR) and Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) today announced that former Insight Communications, Inc. co-founder and CEO and 40-year cable industry veteran Michael S. Willner has agreed to serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of “SpinCo,” the new cable company that will be spun off from Comcast upon completion of the Comcast – Time Warner Cable merger and the Comcast – Charter transactions. Willner will oversee the operations of SpinCo, which will serve approximately 2.5 million customers in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

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Comcast Exec Says FCC Still Can’t Enforce Net Neutrality If It Reclassifies Internet

David CohenComcast EVP David Cohen just made the comment in a remarkably thorough and thoughtful discussion of his company’s views about Internet policy and media consolidation at the first MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit. Bullet points: He thinks net neutrality advocates have engaged in an “almost hysterical reaction” to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s effort to set new open Internet rules without reclassifying the Web as a regulated common carrier service. Cohen sees usage based Internet pricing becoming the norm in a few years. And he doesn’t fear that Comcast’s $40B acquisition of Time Warner Cable would be endangered if AT&T agrees to buy DirecTV — which he says would do more to reduce competition.

On net neutrality, Cohen says that activists calling on the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a so-called Title II common carrier service that could be more easily regulated would be disappointed in the result. “There is nothing in Title II that provides authority for saying that all [Web] services have to be treated the same” — in other words, preventing Internet providers such as Comcast from offering a for-pay fast lane for certain content providers. Telecommunications companies now deemed common carriers “are allowed to provide different levels of service for different amounts of money.” A change also could backfire: “There’s no way Google is going to invest the money they’d need to invest” in Google Fiber if the Web is a Title … Read More »

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