This morning, the top Comcast execs in an earnings conference call admitted to Wall Street that NBCUniversal, which the company just purchased, is a fixer-upper and, in the short term, a money pit. NBCU chief Steve Burke says the company plans to spend $200 million more this year on NBC’s primetime schedule than General Electric did last year when it owned the network. (Burke is looking at 21 pilots, about the same number NBC ordered in 2010.) Comcast considers the turnaround to be a long-term project, but Burke says that simply lifting NBC to third place from fourth would mean “hundreds of millions” in improvement in the company’s cash flow. Meanwhile, Burke also says he plans to spend $100 million more this year on programming NBCU’s cable networks. He expects a “very strong” upfront ad sales season.
As for Universal’s film business, where 1Q revenues and operating cash flow declined, Burke says that “we have to make better films,” although the size of its current slate is “about right.” He attributed some of the woes to the fact that the company had to include a lot of marketing costs for Hop and Fast Five in the latest quarterly report even though most of the revenues from those recently released films will show up on Comcast’s next earnings statement.
Both Burke and Roberts mentioned the “S” word — synergy — which hasn’t been used by Big Media since the days of AOL Time Warner. And we all know how that turned out. READ MORE »
UPDATE, 3:07 PM: CBS Corp chief Les Moonves is such a relentless salesman you can’t resist being suspicious when he makes seemingly over-the-top financial forecasts the way he did today. But the results in CBS’ latest earnings report are too impressive, and his predictions are too specific, to ignore. Moonves says he expects “solid double-digit increases” in CBS’ ad sales in the coming upfront market. That’s one of the most bullish forecasts we’ve heard so far from a network executive. If the NFL season falls apart due to the team owners’ lockout, then “we expect to get a greater piece of the (advertising) pie.” Talking up CBS’ programming, Moonves says that Hawaii Five-0 is destined to become “a billion dollar franchise for us” following an initial syndication deal that prices the show at $5 million an episode. Moonves also is a fan of Netflix and other companies that want to offer TV programs online: Moonves says a deal that would enable Netflix to stream CBS shows in Latin America and Canada “might happen very quickly.” He’s also talking to Amazon, and expects to hear from Blockbuster as its new owner Dish Network considers using the home video chain to launch an online subscription service. Revenue from the Netflix deal that Moonves cut in February will appear on CBS’ books beginning in the second quarter.
In other matters, Moonves says that “there are a lot of moving pieces” with the Warner Bros-produced sitcom Two And A Half Men now that Charlie Sheen is gone, and he doesn’t know whether it will return. The CEO also says that he “has no great intent to sell” CBS’ outdoor advertising business.
The bullish predictions, the strong 1Q results, a decision to double CBS’ dividend to 10 cents a share, and the company’s plan to keep buying back its stock had a predictable result: The price of CBS’ shares rose 4.4% in after-hours trading.
PREVIOUS, 1:40 PM: CBS Corporation just provided yet more evidence that the advertising market is regaining its strength. The broadcast company’s 1Q earnings smashed through analysts’ expectations. Read More »