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 »
Matt Lauer criticized NBC over Ann Curry‘s dismissal and says he offered to quit. At least that’s the way NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke remembers it according to a piece today from Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. The offer came amid Today‘s declining ratings and the messy departure of Ann Curry in June in favor of Savannah Guthrie. “If you think the show’s better off without me, let me know, and I’ll get out of the way,” Burke said Lauer told him. Burke said no way. Lauer had taken the lion’s share of criticism for how Curry left the show, with some reports blaming him directly for forcing her out. The backlash of that move was the start of a ratings crater — the next month, rival Good Morning America beat Today in total viewers and the 25-54 demo for the first time in 17 years. “I don’t think the show and the network handled the [Curry] transition well. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that,” Lauer told the website. (In fact, former NBC News president Steve Capus told Kurtz that Lauer told the network to give Curry time to adjust to her relatively new role as co-anchor. “He was quietly and publicly a supporter of Ann’s throughout the entire process. It is unfair that Matt has shouldered an undue amount of blame for a decision he disagreed with”, Capus said.) Lauer added, “We were seen as a family, and we didn’t handle a family matter well”.
Bonnie Hammer Takes Over All NBCU Cable Entertainment Cable Nets, Lauren Zalaznick Shifts To New Role, Joe Uva Gets Telemundo
Bonnie Hammer is officially NBCUniversal‘s cable queen. Hammer, who added E! and G4 to her portfolio of USA, Syfy and Universal Cable Prods after the Comcast merger, is now taking over the combined company’s entire entertainment cable universe including Bravo, Oxygen and Style, which had been under the purview of fellow top-ranked NBCU cable executive Lauren Zalaznick. Zalaznick, whose post-merger portfolio was a hodgepodge mix of cable networks (Bravo, Style), Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo and digital properties — red-hot Fandago and iVillage (which recently shifted to NBC News Digital) — will now take on a new role as EVP NBCUniversal, focusing on innovation, digital, monetization and emerging technology across the company. Telemundo oversight is going to former Univision Communications CEO Joe Uva, who is joining NBCUniversal as Chairman, Hispanic Enterprises and Content. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke just outlined the restructuring in an internal email (below).
The awkward separation of NBCU’s entertainment cable assets had historic reasons. Hammer and Zalaznick originally made their mark running a cable network (Sci Fi Channel and Trio, respectively) and as they rose through the ranks, the two kept expanding their portfolios until all NBCUniversal entertainment cable nets were under the supervision of one of them. Heading into the Comcast-NBCU merger, one of Burke’s trickiest tasks was trying to keep both Hammer and Zalaznick in the company. That meant giving each some of Comcast’s cable nets — E! and G4 went to Hammer, Style to Zalaznick. But the separation of NBCU’s entertainment cable assets has made less and less sense, especially as networks on both sides were starting to move in a similar direction.
Warning to people at NBC who want to celebrate the network’s stand-out primetime ratings improvement in the first few weeks of the new TV season: Don’t invite NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke to the party. He might pour out the punch bowl, and send the band packing. “We’re still underperforming by my standards,” he told analysts this morning in Comcast’s call to discuss its Q3 earnings. “Broadcast profitability can be dramatically higher,” he added. “We feel like we’re on the right path but there’s a long, long way to go.” His boss, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, was slightly less dour. ”It’s certainly early, but I believe and hope we’re seeing the beginning of a turnaround,” he said. Few would have begrudged the execs if they chose to be a little more exuberant. NBC’s Live+Same Day primetime ratings for 18- to 49-year-olds are +19% for the first four weeks of the new season, while ABC’s -11%, CBS is -18%, and Fox is -24%. Overall, the nets are “down at an alarming rate,” Macquarie Equities Research’s Tim Nollan says. Burke doesn’t seem to think that the networks themselves are to blame, for example by fielding weak shows. Tablets and smartphones have “given people so many options for viewing that they’re viewing more [television programming] but in places that are neither measured nor monetized,” he says.
NBCUniversal today announced a $190 million upgrade to its 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters and other New York City facilities. The construction, which is scheduled for completion in mid-2014, will see more than 1.2 million square feet …
UPDATE, 7 AM: NBC can generate “hundreds of millions” of dollars just by reaching parity with other networks, NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke told analysts this morning. “We’re underperforming our peers….We’re starting to make some progress, but there’s a long way to go.” He has a similar message regarding NBCU’s cable networks that include USA, MSNBC and Syfy. Pay TV operators and advertisers pay more for competitors’ networks than they do for NBCU’s. “We have a real opportunity over the next few years” to change that. They aren’t doing badly, though: Burke says that cable network results in Q1 were hurt by the NBA lockout, although he declined to say how much of a hit the company took. Burke returned to the O-word, ”opportunity,” to describe prospects for Universal Studios. He says that this year’s slate of movies is stronger than last year’s. “We’re hopeful.” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts adds that he’s optimistic the content businesses will benefit from their association with the company’s cable operations. “I think we’re sitting on one of the great brands and libraries.” The growth campaign could be helped by Comcast’s efforts to offer TV Everywhere: Cable systems chief Neil Smit says he wants to provide “the broadest selection of content” to subscribers who want to watch TV shows on mobile devices. Burke adds that “most of the big content companies realize that TV Everywhere is important.” For example, he says the company plans to stream events from the Olympics. How will NBCU get paid? That “doesn’t matter too much,” he says. If the company provides additional value to viewers “that’s where a lot of the (operating cash flow) comes from.”
Here’s something you rarely see: Comcast‘s top two execs ended 2011 with big compensation cuts, even though the stock appreciated 6.9% in the year. CEO Brian Roberts collected $2.8M in salary, $5.7M in stock awards, $5.8M in option awards, $5.5M in non equity incentives, $3.7M change in pension value and $3.4M in other compensation. Last year he saw more than $10.9M from non-equity incentives. Although Roberts isn’t much of a flight risk — his family founded and controls Comcast — the board says that it based his pay on that of other top media CEOs because it believes compensation is an important “tool to attract and retain the best senior executives.” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke was close behind with $23.7M, down 31.9%. His tally: $2.2M salary, $4.4M stock awards, $4.7M in option awards, $6.7M in non equity incentives, $3.1M change in pension, and $2.5M in other compensation. This year he didn’t collect a bonus, which came to $3M in 2010, and he was down about $2M in non equity incentives.
I regularly scoff whenever out-of-town media aim their powder puffs at Big Media moguls. So it is with Philadelphia Magazine’s new profile of NBC Universal boss Steve Burke which compares him to Superman and Jason Bourne among other fictional heroes. The article is a big wet smooch to Philly-based Comcast, and among other hilarity suggests that, if Burke succeeds, he could lift Comcast “into the lofty ranks of Apple and Google”. Huh? There’s no doubt that Burke is still very much in his honeymoon period with the media. He won’t talk to the media — yet. But the article says Burke himself will “do a round of media interviews” timed to Smash, the Stephen Spielberg-produced TV drama about the creation of a musical debuting on NBC mid-season with Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston. Burke will be ”touting the new NBCUni and its downright Comcastic marketing strength”. Here’s more from this long article which focuses almost exclusively on TV and mentions the movie studio only once:
– One of Steve Burke’s first acts when he took over as CEO of NBCUniversal last winter was to redecorate the walls. He dispatched a staff member into the bowels of NBC’s headquarters to select 50 or 60 photos and then Burke went through them personally, choosing Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson, Groucho Marx, the Seinfeld cast, and NBC’s leaders like David Sarnoff and Brandon Tartikoff. The significance of the photos, according to Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts, was that “Steve believes as a manager and human being, that people need to have some sense of greater meaning in everything they do.”
UPDATE, 6:45 AM: The company’s Universal studio had a lousy quarter at the box office, and the NBC broadcast network continues to struggle. But NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke told analysts in a conference call that advertising, especially at the national level, “continues to be a bright spot.” NBC has already sold 90% of the ads for the upcoming Super Bowl. The company continues to talk up its investments in programming at cable networks and NBC although Burke says it “is not a huge amount.” He says he wanted to let people know that “this would be a flattish year” for cash flow growth at NBCU as he spends for programming including the recent agreement to bring World Cup soccer to Telemundo. “We think we structured a very attractive long-term deal and don’t want to box ourselves into not being able to make those investments when they present themselves,” Burke said. At the cable operation, CEO Brian Roberts says he’s enthusiastic about tests in Augusta, Ga., of Xcalibur, a plan to deliver TV programming and data from the Internet cloud instead of a local cable headend. Comcast is testing set-top boxes including game consoles such as the Xbox and expects to have a trial in a major market in the first half of next year. With a programming guide delivered via the Internet, Roberts says Comcast can “move quickly to make tweaks and modifications. … It’s very, very exciting when you move the brains out of the box and into the cloud.”
The Street was impressed — mostly due to the cable system results. Many analysts expected to see a bigger loss in video subs. Comcast shares were up 3.6% in early trading. As for NBCU, “the core of the programming business is NBCU’s cable networks unit, and results there were good,” Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett says. “But the face of NBCU is the broadcast network, and while investors were braced for a weak result, they didn’t disappoint in disappointing.”
BREAKING: Universal Pictures Co-Chairman Donna Langley will continue her term through 2014. The studio extended the option on her deal, a move that was widely expected when Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson re-upped last week and will continue to have full day-to-day operating responsibility for the Motion Picture Group, reporting to Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer (whose contract was recently re-upped through 2015) and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. That was a signal that the studio’s production team would remain intact after NBCUniversal was acquired by Comcast. Langley will continue to serve as a key strategic business partner overseeing the company’s production department, Focus Features and the studio’s worldwide acquisitions efforts. She reports to Fogelson and has been co-chairman since October 2009.
BREAKING: NBCUniversal’s new owners at Comcast have given a vote of confidence to the studio’s feature film operation. They’ve exercised an option on Universal Pictures’ Chairman Adam Fogelson and extended his contract through 2014. I’m told that Fogelson is, in turn, in the process of exercising the option of Donna Langley and she will continue as the studio’s co-chairman. They will also keep their executive team intact. Fogelson will continue to have full day-to-day operating responsibility for the Motion Picture Group, reporting to Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer (whose contract was recently re-upped through 2015) and will now also report to NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke.
While Universal has had its ups and downs, higher-ups are clearly convinced that Fogelson, Langley and their team are making progress. They’ve had recent hits –Bridesmaids, Hop! and Fast Five– but also had some recent misses that include The Dilemma, Change-Up and Cowboys & Aliens. In the latter case, the studio was on the hook for one-third of the film, and shared that third with Relativity Media. It has also been a year in which Fogelson and his team have made some painful decisions and let pricey productions go. That began with the Guillermo Del Toro-directed At the Mountains of Madness, which Universal developed for years and which was ready to go with Tom Cruise, until the studio made a late decision not to go forward because of the possibility the $150M film could carry an R-rating. Universal also dropped two projects that were in advanced stages of development: The Dark Tower, the Akiva Goldsman-directed adaptation of the Stephen King novel series that was to be made into three feature films and two limited-run TV series, with the first film and TV segment directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer and Goldsman; and Oiuja, the Hasbro board game that had McG directing and Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes partners producing with Hasbro. The moves were surprising because Howard and Grazer are cornerstone filmmakers for Universal; and Del Toro and Hasbro have overall deals there. Ouija is one of several Hasbro properties the studio dropped, the others being the Gore Verbinski-directed Clue, the Ridley Scott-directed Monopoly and Magic, The Gathering. These were part of a groundbreaking deal the studio made with the toymaker several years ago, but the studio and Hasbro have re-focused their attention solely on Battleship, Stretch Armstrong, and Candy Land.
NBC’s broadcast network is reviving faster than Comcast expected and represents “our biggest upside in the near term,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke told an investment conference this morning. Since Comcast bought a 51% stake in NBCU in January, “most of the things that have changed have changed for the better.” He says that the national ad business remains “very strong” — with spots for the 2012 Super Bowl nearly sold out. Although there are growing signs that the economy may weaken or stagnate, Burke told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference that NBC can improve once it gets the respect he says the network deserves from advertisers. He says unit prices for NBC’s ads “are discounted heavily, up to 25%” vs. ABC, CBS, and Fox. If NBC develops more must-see shows then the gap should narrow and “you can imagine hundreds of millions (of dollars) in EBITDA coming in.” Burke adds that NBC-owned stations also are “significantly less profitable than we need to be” and that “there’s no reason” that Spanish-language network Telemundo can’t reach a bigger audience. Burke also is upbeat about revenues from the networks’ and stations retransmission consent deals with cable and satellite distributors — including Comcast. The exec says that some of that cash will go back into programming. The network’s previous owner, General Electric, “had not been as enthusiastic about the business and had not been as willing to invest as we are.”
Now that Big Media’s 2Q earnings season is over, the big question on Wall Street is: Did it give us any insight into the future? CEOs’ cheery talk about strong ad sales in TV’s upfront market, the expected bump next year from political ads, and the revenues coming in from online streaming services may be irrelevant if the economy sinks into a deep, new recession. CEOs say they see no evidence of trouble yet. The industry’s leading cheerleader, CBS chief Les Moonves, channeled his inner Buzz Lightyear last week saying that he has “every reason to believe that we will deliver strong results throughout the rest of the year, into 2012 and beyond.” Investors still sliced 6.3% off of CBS’ market value. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is down about 16% in the last month as traders anticipate cuts in ad spending, ticket buying, subscriptions — the works. If the pessimists are right, then the race is on: Which company will be the first to change its message from “people will buy media because they have cash” to “people will buy media because it helps them to forget their problems”?
Here are other themes from the latest earnings reports:
Jobs: Media companies still aren’t hiring. No one said that so baldly, but it’s there between the lines: CEOs talked more about financial engineering – cutting costs and returning cash to shareholders – than about spending to become more competitive. Time Warner recorded $24M in layoff-related expenses, quadruple the amount from the same quarter last year, while Viacom spent $14M, up from zero last year. Yet virtually every media company is repurchasing shares or increasing its dividend. The message? CEOs can’t persuade investors that the companies know how to make a decent profit from their cash, and shareholders want it back.
Pay TV: This was “the weakest (quarter) in the industry’s history,” says Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett. Analysts were startled to see the largest cable, satellite, and telco companies collectively lose about 195,000 video customers. The cord cutters don’t fit the stereotype of well-to-do technophiles. Moffett says that “all the evidence” shows that a growing number of people – especially young adults — simply can’t afford pay TV. Dish Network seemed to confirm that thesis by saying that it will shift its marketing focus to upscale consumers instead of bargain hunters. With the U.S. market stalled, it’s easy to see why cable programmers want investors to look at their expansion efforts in growing markets overseas such as India, Russia, China, and Brazil. “It is the current momentum and potential of our international assets that present a meaningful, unique opportunity for us,” Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told analysts.
UPDATE, 6:45 AM: In this morning’s analyst call, NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke subtly dinged General Electric for its management of NBC until January, when Comcast took charge. He says the conglomerate hadn’t supplied the cash that’s “necessary to compete.” Burke says Comcast is changing that: “In general we see this year, and next year probably, as investment years.” The turnaround at primetime’s No. 4 broadcast network could take as long as four years, but “I’m confident we’ll get there.” Burke says Comcast has an initiative called Symphony to market NBCU programming across company assets including VOD and online. It increased the production and marketing budgets for The Voice several times after the company realized the talent contest would be a hit. The next season will debut right after the Super Bowl in February. Meanwhile, NBCU’s cable networks are ordering more original series including USA’s Suits and Necessary Roughness and Syfy’s Alphas. Comcast also is beefing up its TV stations’ local news. It’s adding 135 people at 10 stations including 40 reporters and 20 producers; five markets are building investigative units. Burke says the investments will pay off: With growing revenue from retransmission consent deals and license fees from online streaming services such as Netflix, “content is more valuable today than it was” when Comcast agreed to buy NBCU. He adds that despite the weak economy “we don’t see any signs of deceleration” in ad sales. CEO Brian Roberts echoed Burke’s enthusiasm but warned analysts that “we have to have realistic expectations.” Roberts added that while “there’s economic news that’s rattled the markets,” Comcast is still “investing and getting good financial results.”
PREVIOUS, 4:20 AM: Comcast generated 2Q net income of $1.02B, up 15.6% vs the same period last year, on revenues of $14.3B, up 50.5%. But earnings, at 37 cents a share, missed the 41 cent target among analysts who follow the company. They expected revenues to come in at $13.8B.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said today that Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal bosses Steve Burke and Gary Zenkel have assured him that the resignation of NBC Sports & Olympics president Dick Ebersol does not alter NBC’s plan to bid on the next round of U.S. Olympic broadcast rights next month, a competition that is expected to include ABC/ESPN and Fox. Rogge told the Associated Press that the news of Ebersol’s departure was a “shock,” certainly in part because the move comes less than three weeks before the IOC opens bidding in Laussane, Switzerland, on deals for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics. It’s a process Ebersol has overseen countless times for NBC, which has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002. (In 2003, NBC won the current rights package with a $2.2 billion bid to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics — the network reportedly lost $200 million on that one — and the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics in London.) ”The three reiterated the full support of NBC/Comcast for the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games,” Rogge told AP. “They said they would come for the bidding. They … made it very clear that the resignation of Dick had absolutely nothing to do with the bidding.”