For a sense of how blah the Q3 earnings season was, here’s a sample of some of my favorite headlines from analyst reports for the period: About Comcast, “Not Sexy, But Safe (…But Maybe Safe IS Sexy).” About Disney, “Expect No Magic In The F1Q13 Kingdom.” About News Corp, “Still Waiting For More News.” About Time Warner, “Cost Controls Fuel Profit Upside.” And the winner, about Viacom: ”Things Starting To Get Less Bad!” All in all, the results weren’t as dreary as you might have expected in a period when ad sales were soft (aside from the Olympics and political spending), TV ratings were down, box office fell, and pay TV subscriptions were flat. The good news from the companies’ perspective is that investors already knew about most of these issues. And CEOs seemed to find it easy to counter disappointing surprises. Some reassured the Street that ad sales kinda, sorta seem to be improving — and that they’re still committed to returning cash to them through stock repurchases or dividends. All in all, the Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is down 2.6% since the beginning of this month, just slightly lower than the benchmark Standard & Poors 500 which is -2.2%. That’s pretty good considering that the Media Index is up 28% so far for all of 2012 while the market is +10%. READ MORE »
It must feel good for the executives from Philadelphia to issue a quarterly earnings report that doesn’t have to urge investors to be patient with NBCUniversal. The cable and entertainment giant generated net income in Q3 of nearly $3B, up 155.4% vs the period last year, on revenues of $16.5B, +15.4%. Comcast‘s revenue figure was well ahead of the $16.1B that analysts expected. And after factoring out one-time gains from the sale of wireless spectrum to Verizon Wireless, and NBCUniversal’s interest in A&E Networks, earnings per share came in a 46 cents — just what the Street anticipated. NBCUniversal more than held its own this time, although with some caveats. The cable networks delivered $2.2B in revenues (+3.2%) and $809M in operating cash flow (+7.6%) as increases in payments from pay TV distributors compensated for what the company says were “flat” advertising sales in the quarter. NBC’s broadcast operations, puffed up by the Olympics, generated $2.8B in revenues (+83.8%) with operating cash flow of $88M (up from a $7M loss last year). The picture looks far less cheery, though, if you take away the impact of the London Games: That would have left broadcast revenues of $1.6B (+5.2%) and a cash flow loss of $25M due to the high programming costs for fall season shows and news expenses to cover the presidential election.
At the Universal Studios film unit, hits including Ted and The Bourne Legacy contributed to revenues of $1.4B (+23.6%) and operating cash flow of $72M (+31.1%). And Universal’s theme park revenues came in at $614M (+5.8%) with operating cash flow of $316M (+11.2%).
This is a surprise. Kyle McSlarrow, a longtime political operative in Washington, will relocate to Salt Lake City to serve as a Regional VP overseeing Comcast‘s cable operations in Utah and Arizona. He’ll report to Steve White, President of Comcast Cable’s West Division. “We’re delighted Kyle will now be turning all of his attention to our business operations which has been a goal of his since he came to Comcast,” says company EVP David Cohen. Maybe so, but it sure wasn’t evident from McSlarrow’s DC activities. He joined Comcast in April 2011 with the fancy title of President, Comcast/NBC Universal, Washington, D.C., where he reported to Cohen and oversaw public policy matters. That followed six years as CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, making him the industry’s top lobbyist. Lately he’s been an informal adviser to Mitt Romney on energy and telecommunications issues — giving rise to speculation that he’d be in line for an FCC appointment if the GOP presidential candidate wins. Previously, McSlarrow had been Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Energy Department, VP of Political and Government Affairs for Grassroots.com, National Chairman for the Quayle 2000 Presidential Campaign, Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell and Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel for Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Trent Lott.
Despite the rumors that Comcast had conversations with Stacey Snider and possibly Tom Rothman to take a top post at the studio, and despite the summer disappointment of Battleship, Universal Pictures has just set its best-ever result for North American box office with $1.128 billion. That beats the $1.127 billion set in 2008. Buoyed by hits like Ted, the studio will likely also beat its worldwide ticket sales record as well. It has four movies still to be released: Pitch Perfect, in wide release on October 5; the action-thriller The Man With The Iron Fists on November 2; Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, on December 21; and Les Misérables, on December 25. The films that Universal has released so far this year are: Contraband, Big Miracle, Safe House, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Wanderlust, American Reunion, The Five Year Engagement, Battleship, Snow White And The Huntsman, Ted, Savages and The Bourne Legacy. The studio is number four in box office share behind Warner Bros (22 films), Sony a(21) and Disney with 13 films.
Leno Slaps Comcast For ‘Tonight’ Cutbacks; Dave And Jay Ignore Jimmy’s Move News; Kimmel Tells Audience About “Our Big Day”
UPDATED: His lord and master Comcast EVP and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke happened to be in town early this week. So Jay Leno made the most of it. For two nights in a row the late night host opened his Burbank monologue by slapping Comcast for ordering layoffs and pay cuts on The Tonight Show. “Or, as we call it, Survivor Comcast,” Leno said on Tuesday’s broadcast, adding ”NBC now stands for Nothing But Cutbacks.” Leno also came out swinging on Monday’s show saying, “Comcast calls us The Expendables… We’ve consistently been #1 in the ratings and, if you know anything about our network, that kind of thing is frowned upon.” Ouch! - because those are the same jokes Leno used to tell about his GE bosses. Then again, Jay is prone to whining on air.
Neither Leno nor David Letterman during their monologues took any notice of Tuesday’s big announcement that ABC’s midnight host Jimmy Kimmel will move his show to 11:35 PM on January 8th. No jokes, no mentions, no nuthin’. Hey, why give Jimmy any advance publicity before they all go head-to-head-to-head in late night?
As for Kimmel, he joked during his monologue that the news about his move was “almost as exciting as Miley Cyrus’ new haircut”. He also said:
“It was a big day for us here today. You may have heard about this – or maybe not. ABC our network announced today that, starting in January – right around our 10-year anniversary – our show is moving from midnight to 11:35. I hope this doesn’t throw off my feeding schedule
Moving from midnight to 11:35 might not sound like a big deal – it’s only 25 minutes – but it’s probably the most important 25 minutes of my life since the first 14 times I had sex.
So to all those people who’ve been telling me “your show is on too late for me” – you’re going to need a new excuse. Like “your show sucks”.
SATURDAY UPDATE: Jay Leno’s spokesman has now issued this statement: ”Jay’s foremost concern is for the wonderful people who work for The Tonight Show. He did what was necessary to ensure their well-being.”
BREAKING… EXCLUSIVE… FRIDAY 8:30 PM: NBC insiders tell me The Tonight Show went through ”downsizing” today and that 20 staffers lost their jobs. Others tell me the number is more like 25, and producers were forced to take pay cuts or lose their jobs. I’ve also learned that Jay Leno took what is being described as a “tremendous” pay cut to “save as many people’s jobs as he could”. Leno’s Tonight Show is consistently the #1 late night talk show in both households and demographics, except for some anomalies when Leno does get beaten. And that’s despite the fact that the network’s primetime ratings have been dismal for many years or that Leno himself was harshly criticized by the media for that January 2010 standoff with Conan O’Brien. Even so, The Tonight Show has been and still is a cash cow for NBC. So what happened to merit the downsizing? “I don’t think ad sales are off. I just think the people who bought this company, Comcast, wants to go through everything at NBC and get their money back,” an NBC insider tells me. ”It’s hard to go through those kinds of cuts. It’s more a network issue than a late-night issue. And I would say that Jay doesn’t get credit for digging out of a gigantic hole every single night. He’s a very valuable guy to NBC and someday everyone will understand that. He does a great job.”
The downsizing also comes just 5 days after First Lady Michelle Obama appeared as a guest for the third time on The Tonight Show: high unemployment, job creation, and taxing the rich vs the poor all are issues in the 2012 president campaign. Leno has said publicly that he’s able to bank his entire Tonight Show salary and live on the hefty fees he makes from his hectic personal appearance schedule. Leno’s new salary is reportedly $27M-$30 million a year. He reportedly brings home another $15M-$20M a year from his other gigs.
Consumer advocates say that this pretty much ends prospects that cable and phone companies will vigorously compete in wired and wireless broadband. But government officials believe they extracted enough compromises from the companies to resolve antitrust concerns and protect the public interest. The Justice Department filed a consent decree to let Verizon pay close to $4B to a consortium of cable companies led by Comcast for some airwave spectrum they control, as the erstwhile competitors also strike a series of agreements to develop products and cross-market each other’s services. The FCC also is teed up to endorse the deal; Chairman Julius Genachowski said he will circulate an order based on the consent decree to be approved by the full commission.
Today’s order from the regulatory agency’s Media Bureau means that by tomorrow Bloomberg TV will be located next to other news channels such as CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox News in about 158 of Comcast’s systems. The bureau pretty much sided with Bloomberg, ruling that the cable company had to move the business news channel’s standard definition feed into the so-called “news neighborhood” of the dial in 32 systems even if it meant that another service had to be displaced. Also, Comcast couldn’t just move Bloomberg on the HD tier. “When coupled with the Bureau’s earlier mandate that Comcast place Bloomberg TV in 126 Standard Definition news neighborhoods by July 1, this stands as a big win for the public and independent programmers,” says Greg Babyak, Bloomberg’s Head of Government Affairs. The order clarifies a May 2 Media Bureau decision that Comcast discriminated against Bloomberg TV by positioning it away from other news services. It’s a sensitive issue because Bloomberg competes with CNBC: Before Comcast bought NBCU, it promised the FCC that it wouldn’t favor its own channels vs rival services. Comcast said it wasn’t discriminating against Bloomberg; it was already separated from other news services on Comcast systems before the NBCU deal. The cable giant has said that it will appeal the ruling. Comcast wouldn’t comment on today’s Media Bureau ruling.
“We are way ahead of where we thought we would be,” NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke told analysts this morning in a call to discuss Comcast earnings. London will break even and “given the trends, we stand to make money on …
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts says that NBCUniversal came in “as anticipated” while he remains “very positive” — which tells you that folks in Philadelphia aren’t pleased with the results for the entertainment unit. But the cable operations saved the day. Comcast reported net income of $1.6B, +19.5% vs the period last year, on revenues of $15.2B, +6.1%. Revenues matched analysts’ expectations while earnings, at 50 cents a share, topped forecasts for 48 cents. Roberts had already warned that the NBCUniversal results would be weak in a quarter that included a big disappointment with the film Battleship and ratings weakness at NBC. Revenues for the entire unit were -0.8% to $5.5B while its operating cash flow fell 15.4% to $982M. The top line for the Cable Networks was +3.6% to $2.3B which Comcast attributes to a 6.8% increase in fees from pay TV distributors with ad sales +4.1%. Still, the unit’s operating cash flow fell 6.8% to $788M due to higher programming costs. Revenues for the NBC broadcast network dropped 9.1% to $1.5B, while operating cash flow was +2.7% to $190 million due to improvements at the O&O stations. Meanwhile, Universal Studios’ revenue fell 1.8% to $1.2B — but with a cash flow loss of $83M vs. a profit last year of $27M — which the company says was “primarily driven by the underperformance of Battleship.” Theme parks had a better story to tell, though, with revenues +3.4% to $539M and cash flow +4.2% to $235M.