NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert told advertisers today that the 2013-14 season “will be better than this season” as NBCUniversal “speaks to our customers with unity, clarity and precision….Everybody is talking to each other a lot.” Other execs echoed the theme that they’re on the case to turn things around following NBC’s disappointing ratings this season. “We have no illusions about how much work is ahead of us to grow our business,” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said at his company’s upfront presentation. Although he says he “doesn’t usually believe in testing” for new shows, this year “testing really seemed to go our way.” NBCU Advertising Sales President Linda Yaccarino called the upcoming slate “an outstanding lineup filled with innovation and creativity.” She adds that following Comcast’s acquisition of the company from General Electric, “NBCUniversal is a different kind of media company” that’s “determined to invest in the content, analytics, technology and people to help you sell your products.”
Related: Live-Blog: NBC’s Upfront Presentation
She touted Comcast‘s ability to sell ads and promote programs across NBC, Telemundo and 18 cable networks. “Making it easier for you to do business with us is the top priority…We’ve done it. It works. And we can prove it.” Greenblatt says that NBC will try to boost ratings over the summer with 70% original programs. Then NBC will seize two opportunities to launch new shows: In the fall it will have three comedies and three dramas that execs hope to build off the strength of Sunday Night Football and The Voice. NBC will also use the February 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to promote what Greenblatt called “our second season” with three comedies and two dramas. “I think we have a strong 52 weeks ahead of us,” he says.
Related: NBC’s 2013-14 Schedule
Here’s yet another mixed-bag Big Media report on this unusually busy morning, although the 2% pre-market jump in Comcast‘s shares suggests that the earnings growth here is especially impressive. The cable and entertainment colossus generated $1.65B in net income in Q1, +13.7% vs the period last year, on revenues of $15.3B, +2.9%. Analysts thought that revenues would come in a little higher, at $15.4B. But earnings of 54 cents a share beat forecasts for 50 cents. NBCUniversal did its part, with operating cash flow +17.2% to $953M — despite a 2.4% drop in revenues to $5.34B. (It would have been up 2.4% if you factor out last year’s $259M from NBC’s Super Bowl coverage.) Cable network revenue was +4.6% to $2.2B with operating cash flow +6.2% to $859M. Comcast says that affiliate fees were up 8.6% while ad price increases offset lower ratings to raise sales 2.5%. The story’s drearier at the broadcast operation: Its operating loss increased to $35M from $14M last year while revenues fell 18.5% to $1.5B. (The drop would be just 5.3% without last year’s Super Bowl.) The main culprits, the company says, were “lower primetime ratings at the NBC broadcast network and lower content licensing revenue.” In Filmed Entertainment, the company says that Les Miserables helped to propel revenues +2% to $1.2B with operating cash flow up to $69M from $6M in the period last year. Theme Parks also performed with revenues +12.2% to $462M and operating cash flow +10.3% to $173M. CEO Brian Roberts says that following his company’s acquisition of General Electric’s stake in NBCU it will “drive innovation and operational excellence to deliver superior entertainment and communications choices for consumers.” Read More »
NBCUniversal has its woes, but Comcast execs have little reason to complain about their personal incomes for 2012. CEO Brian Roberts — who controls a third of the voting shares — received a nice bump in pay in a year when Comcast stock appreciated 54%. His package includes $2.8M salary, $4.8M in stock awards, $4.8M in option awards, $9M in non-equity incentives, $4M change in pension value, and $3.7M in other compensation according to the proxy filed at the SEC this afternoon. About $3.3M from the “other” category represents deferred compensation. At least Roberts spread the wealth among his colleagues. His pay amounted to 1.4 times the median for Comcast’s four other top execs, which shouldn’t alarm corporate governance activists who become concerned when the CEO makes more than 3 times the average for other top execs named in the proxy. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke ended up with $26.3M, +11.3%. Read More »
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the cable provider, saying an $875 million antitrust lawsuit filed on behalf of many as 2 million Philadelphia-area customers could not proceed as a single class-action suit. In a … Read More »
General Electric is out of the NBCUniversal business. Comcast today closed its $16.7B deal to buy the 49% of the entertainment company that GE continued to own after the companies formed a joint venture in … Read More »
Here you go, Xfinity TV customers who enjoy binge viewing: From March 25-31 the No. 1 cable operator will offer its “Xfinity Watchathon Week” with free VOD and streaming access to more than 3,500 episodes of 100 TV series across 30 premium, cable and broadcast networks. It’s “the biggest catch-up ever in TV history,” says Comcast Cable VP Video Services Maggie Suniewick. Series will include Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, Dexter, Girls, Spartacus, Duck Dynasty, Mad Men, Revolution, The Walking Dead, Touch, Chicago Fire, Psych, Parenthood, and The Americans. Comcast teased the event at an investment conference last week. The company is eager to promote its VOD library to viewers who like the flexibility they find with services such as Netflix to watch shows spontaneously, without having to pre-program a DVR. Comcast also wants to show networks that they can benefit from VOD; it supports Nielsen’s C3 ratings and Comcast sometimes disables fast-forwarding, which raises the number of viewers who see commercials. Premium channels also will be able to give non-subscribers a taste: Comcast says that Watchathon will offer “almost the entire on demand TV libraries” for HBO, Showtime, and Starz including The Sopranos, Sex And The City, and The Wire. Programs will be available at Xfinity.com/tv, the Xfinity TV Player App for Apple and Android devices, and Xfinity Streampix as well as the conventional VOD service for subscribers. Some shows won’t be available on all platforms, but Comcast says that in “virtually all cases” viewers can watch “regardless of [the] customer’s subscription level.” Comcast will introduce a Watchathon Week microsite to help customers find programming. It also will offer behind-the-scenes features and games. Read More »
Originally announced at MipTV last year, Rovio Entertainment‘s weekly Angry Birds Toons animated series is ready to hatch. The first of 52 episodes will debut next weekend across the globe, and across multiple platforms, including … Read More »
The No. 1 cable company hopes to draw consumer attention to its broad VOD catalog late this month by offering shows from its broadcast, cable, and premium cable networks for free for a week, Comcast Cable CEO Neil … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: El Rey, the upcoming Comcast cable network from filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa’s FactoryMade, is looking to make a splash with original scripted series. I have learned that Tres Pistoleros Studios, Rodriguez and FactoryMade’s production company, has signed a mega three-year deal with Reliance’s Georgeville Television that could be worth a quarter of a billion dollars. Under the pact, Georgeville, the independent TV studio formed by Marc Rosen and Motion Picture Capital’s Leon Clarance and Deepak Nayar, will produce a minimum of six 13-episode series for the new network at budgets rumored to be at least $3 million an episode. (UPDATE 14:45 PM: The El Rey-Georgeville TV deal has now been officially announced. You can read the press release under the story.)
With the deal, El Rey hints at its future identity as a scripted player when it launches in January 2014. That is also a direction Oprah Winfrey recently took with her upstart OWN, signing a multi-series pact with Tyler Perry for scripted fare. El Rey is one of three minority-owned new channels Comcast committed to while seeking federal approval for its acquisition of NBC Universal. Of the other two, Magic Johnson’s Aspire, targeting black families, launched last summer, with Sean Combs’ music-oriented Revolt set to unspool in July. The English-language El Rey is targeting the U.S.’ growing Latino audience whose importance is on the rise. Just this month, Spanish-language broadcaster Univision posted its first No.4 in-season sweep finish among adults 18-49, topping NBC. Read More »
With apologies to Bill Maher, here’s a New Rule for Big Media CEOs when they decide to raise their dividends or announce a major new stock-repurchase initiative. They have to stop insisting that it’s a sign of confidence and strength in cases where they’re just bribing investors to keep them from fleeing.
This thought struck me in the Q4 earnings season that’s wrapping up. Just about every big company that fell even a little short of Wall Street’s expectations had a new plan to return cash to shareholders. The explanations were consistent. After CBS missed analysts’ revenue and earnings targets, CEO Les Moonves said his accelerated $1B share repurchase reflects “the great confidence we have in our businesses.” At Time Warner — which missed revenue forecasts but beat on earnings — CEO Jeff Bewkes said that it was able to authorize an additional $4B share repurchase and an 11% dividend increase because “we’re at an even stronger position today than we were a year ago.” Then there’s Comcast, which just slightly missed revenue and earnings expectations but raised its dividend by 20% and agreed to repurchase $2B of stock, while announcing that it will pay $16.7B for General Electric’s 49% of NBCUniversal. The moves demonstrate “confidence and optimism in the future of all our businesses,” CEO Brian Roberts said.
Related: Did Les Moonves’ Salesmanship Help CBS Shares Hit A Record High Today?
They’re right in this sense: Most Big Media companies are part of pay TV oligopolies that still have scandalous power to set and raise prices — mostly by requiring people who want to keep up with the national conversation to pay for dozens of channels that they never watch. Execs also had encouraging reports about current concerns. Generally speaking, ad sales picked up in Q4, and TV viewers returned to the major broadcast networks after the dismal opening weeks of the fall primetime season.
But if executives are so bullish about their companies, then why do they consider it such a great thing to give cash to investors to spend elsewhere? Wouldn’t they demonstrate their faith more persuasively if they used the funds to expand — you know, create jobs — or buy assets in complementary or growing fields? It’s not like we’re still in the depths of the recession when media stocks were such a bargain. CBS shares are more expensive than they’ve been since the end of 2005 when it separated from Viacom. Time Warner’s at a five-year high. And Comcast is at its all-time best. If the investment strategy is to buy assets when the price is high, all I can say is, folks, don’t try this at home. Read More »
Comcast stunned investors Tuesday by disclosing its plan to buy out General Electric way ahead of schedule. It also released Q4 earnings that were expected tomorrow, and announced a 20% increase in its dividend as well as a $2B stock-repurchase plan. Comcast shares are up 7% in after-hours trading — an all-time high — while GE is up about 3%. “Our decision to acquire GE’s ownership is driven by our sense of optimism for the future prospects of NBCUniversal and our desire to capture future value that we hope to create for our shareholders,” CEO Brian Roberts says. The cable giant will finance the GE buyout with $11.4B billion of cash on hand, $4.0B of subsidiary senior unsecured notes it will issue to GE, $2.0B of borrowings, and $725M of subsidiary preferred stock it will issue to GE. In addition to the stock purchase, Comcast agreed to pay $1.4B for the NBCUniversal headquarters in New York at 30 Rockefeller Plaza as well as CNBC’s facilities in New Jersey.
Prior to the new agreement, GE could have required Comcast to buy half of its 49% NBCU stake beginning at the end of July 2014, and the remaining half beginning in January 2018. Read More »
Private equity firms Permira and KKR are said to be working with JPMorgan Chase on options for their 53% stake in German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media. The firms could sell to another company or on the open market, … Read More »
Even though its corporate executives at Comcast are meeting with the Vice-President discussing ways to curb gun violence, NBC Sports Network said today it will not be dropping its sponsorship of the largest gun trade show in … Read More »
TUESDAY 11:15 AM UPDATE: So have fun with this. Comcast tells me it rebranded its logo because of its 50th anniversary next year. “We spent the last year starting to prepare for that and thinking what the Comcast story is. The company has changed so dramatically in the past 2 years. The acquisition of NBCUniversal now makes us a media company. That, with our digital technology and new products and services, all came to life during the Olympics this summer. We can’t use the rings. So we brought back the iconic peacock brand to Comcast to express that the parent company is made up of two entities. We wanted to visually tell people that something had changed.” No truth to the rumor that the bird had been lying low in Albuquerque while it was banished. And still no plans to add Universal’s spinning globe to the Comcast logo.
TUESDAY 12:30 AM: Almost a year ago Comcast unveiled a new NBCUniversal logo which did not include either rainbow peacock or Universal’s revolving world globe. Instead NBCUniversal was given an ugly, generic, and very purple look, prompting snark that Comcast’s first act after taking over NBCU was to demote the bird. But today Comcast unveiled a new corporate website. And, surprise surprise, it quietly returned the peacock by adding it to the parent company logo. So here’s what I think happened. (I won’t find out the official reason until morning…) When Comcast took over NBC, the network’s ratings were in the crapper. So the parent company banished the peacock. But this year NBC’s primetime lineup won its first November sweeps since 2003 under Comcast-installed NBC Entertainment President Bob Greenblatt and a lineup of NFL football (pre-Comcast), The Voice (pre-Comcast), and Revolution (post-Comcast). (When NBC last topped adults 18-49 in November sweeps, it was showing The West Wing, Friends and ER.) So now Comcast, presumably proud as a peacock, took the bird out of the Witness Protection Program. And what about the Universal globe? Well, the movie studio is coming off a bad slump. But 2012′s Ted is now the highest grossing original R-rated comedy worldwide. And Universal’s holiday pic Les Miserables is expected to gross big at the global box office and even score an Oscar nod. I have a hunch that, if Les Mis wins Best Picture, the Universal globe will be spinning atop the Comcast logo very soon.
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Major League Baseball, the NHL, Comcast and DirecTV failed today in their team effort to get an antitrust class action suit against them dismissed in a New York District Court. “Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the NHL and MLB have used their monopoly power to restrict the broadcast of television programming in a manner that harms competition,” said the ruling (read it here) from U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Wednesday. The ruling means the class action instigated in the spring can go forward. The various plaintiffs claim that the leagues, regional sports networks and the cable and satellite companies have created monopolies over the airing of games on TV and online by dividing up territories and instating blackouts. In a response this summer, the defendants said the plaintiff’s claims were “meritless” and sought to have the case tossed. While the judge rejected the notion that self-proclaimed “middlemen” DirecTV, Comcast and the regional sports networks actively conspired to monopolize individual markets, Sheindlin kept everyone on the hook for their collective actions. “The notion that the exhibition of league games on television and the Internet is clearly a ‘league issue’ is contrary to long-standing precedent that agreements limiting the telecasting of professional sports games are subject to antitrust scrutiny,” Scheindlin wrote in the 53-page ruling.
A conference hearing in New York has been scheduled for December 18.
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Bernstein Research raised its earnings-per-share forecast for the cable giant this morning after analysts Craig Moffett and Todd Juenger concluded that NBCUniversal “has gone from albatross to a key part of the bull case” for Comcast — and could generate an additional $1.5B in annual cash flow by 2016. Where will the money come from? The analysts say that they’re highly confident NBC can generate $837M by 2016 from pay TV distributors. Cable and satellite companies should be spending $1.10 per subscriber per month for the right to retransmit NBC by then. The company-owned stations will collect the entire amount while affiliates, in the computation, will turn over to NBC about half of their proceeds. Meanwhile, the analysts expect pay TV providers to cough up an additional $190M in 2016 for NBCU cable networks including USA and MSNBC — twice as much as they’ll likely pay in 2014. NBC’s ratings also could improve enough to produce an additional $450M, although Moffett and Juenger say they’re only moderately confident about this. Since there’s no way they can predict what the network will air, let along how the shows will perform, they just assume that NBC will strengthen enough to be ahead of ABC but behind CBS in the competition for ad dollars. Read More »