A perfect media company “would look a lot like NBCUniversal,” the operation’s chief told analysts this morning in a conference call to discuss Q3 earnings. He turned cheerleader in response to a question about whether parent company Comcast would consider buying other assets to fill out its entertainment portfolio. And it isn’t, at least not as of today. “We see so much organic growth” from the existing properties, Steve Burke said. Specifically, “we’ve grown increasingly bullish about the theme park business,” he added, with Phase 2 of its Harry Potter attraction proceeding in Orlando and other ambitious efforts to develop tie-ins with Despicable Me. “We’re making these investments because we really like the business,” Burke said. Comcast execs added little new information about developments on other fronts. On the possibility of adding a Netflix app to the company’s set top boxes, Comcast Cable chief Neil Smit says: “There’s nothing to report. … It’s incredible to me the amount of press coverage this has received.” He noted, though, that the company has apps for Facebook and Pandora. And CEO Brian Roberts did a soft sell for the new initiative with Twitter to introduce a “See It” button on the social media platform that would act as a remote control to bring users directly to certain TV shows. “We want to promote live television,” he said. “Whether that will move ratings, I don’t know.”
The writing had been on the wall since the February reorganization at NBCUniversal when the company merged the cable network portfolios of chairmen Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick under Hammer. In the restructuring, Lauren Zalaznick took on a new role as EVP NBCUniversal, “focusing on innovation, digital, monetization and emerging technology across the company.” Steve Burke just announced Zalaznick’s exit from the company after a 12-year tenure. Like Hammer, Zalaznick was a rising star at NBC Universal, originally making her mark running Trio and then growing fledgeling Bravo into a formidable asset. After the Comcast merger, she added to her purview cable network Style, Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo and digital properties — including red-hot Fandango, which doubled its market share on her watch. (Telemundo has handed over to Joe Uva in February, while Hammer recently dropped the Style brand, transforming the network into Esquire.) While I hear Zalaznick was originally intrigued by her new role, she became itchy to return to an executive position where she runs a business vs. the more of a “suit” advisory post she was in. About three weeks ago, she approached NBCU CEO Steve Burke about transitioning out, and the plan was put into motion. Zalaznick is expected to return to the executive ranks, but maybe not at a traditional TV company. She has been interested in the junction between content and technology and has been advising and investing in several startups in that area. Read Burke’s memo — which also lays out the succession plan, with Cesar Conde taking on the bulk of Zalaznick’s reports — after the jump:
The NBCUniversal chief puts the gap at as much as $1B even though NBC has “essentially the same cost structure” as ABC, CBS, and Fox. That’s bad news, right? Not to Steve Burke. He told investors at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference today that it “represents a huge opportunity” to grow. Burke is upbeat about collecting more cash from retransmission consent deals with pay TV distributors. NBC made “virtually nothing” from cable and satellite companies two years ago and expects to see $200M in payments this year. That should continue to grow with 75% of NBC’s distribution deals expiring over the next three years. With other networks commanding big increases — including CBS from its recent showdown with Time Warner Cable — Burke sees “no reason why we won’t draft behind other broadcasters.” NBC also should see improvement in ad rates, which he says sell at about a 20% discount to its rivals. “Our ratings are lower than we’d like them to be.” That discount “will go away” although “it may not be in a year.” He expects big improvements this year with the Winter Olympics running on NBC in February, the middle of the broadcast season. “It will be a great launch pad for all of our spring shows….We feel like we’re putting ourselves in a position to do better this fall and spring.” Burke adds that his outlays for programming are under control — appreciating “in the mid-to-high single digit range” each year, although he hasn’t set budgets for next year yet.
2ND UPDATE, 10:08 AM: The blame game continues in the stalled Peacock Productions unionization election. First more than 40 writers sent a protest letter to NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke on WGA East letterhead on Monday (see below). They were upset over the fact that a National Labor Relations appeal by the company of a vote by Peacock freelancers on June 14 have not yet been counted and ballots impounded. Then today NBCU said they didn’t impound anything, it was the NLRB as a part of the appeal procedure and out of their hands. Now WGA East Executive Director Lowell Peterson has sent me a new statement annoyed at what he sees as NBCU’s sophistry. “Sad to see NBCU indulge in corporate double talk. The issue is simple, NBCU executives have the power to unblock the vote and let the ballots be counted. We call on them again to do so and allow the writer-producers to make their own decision about representation. That’s democracy at work,” said Peterson. The thing is in all this jockeying for position, both sides are right. NBCU could asked the NLRB to have their appeal halted so the votes could be counted. However, they didn’t actually stop the votes from being counted or had the ballots impounded, that was done by the NLRB. And, if anyone is asking, they are still investigating the case, sources tell me.
UPDATE, 8:25 AM: NBCUniversal‘s Peacock Productions says it didn’t ask to have any votes impounded in a union election — the National Labor Relations Board did. After a public letter Monday to NBCU chief Steve Burke from dozens of NBC writers (see below) on the dispute over some freelancers at Peacock seeking to join WGA East, the company sent me its own statement today on the matter:
Prior to the June 14 vote, we asked the NLRB to review the Regional Director’s decision regarding the supervisory status of Peacock’s freelance producers. The NLRB granted us a review. As is part of the normal process, the votes were impounded by the NLRB until a decision is made. We are still waiting for the NLRB to render their decision, which is why no votes have been counted.
We believe that Peacock’s producers hold meaningful supervisory authority, which according to Federal Labor Law, excludes them from voting. The Board decided to review the Regional Director’s decision and is currently in the process of doing so.
Steve Burke‘s previous deal, made in late 2009, was due to expire at the end of 2014. Now it will run through August 2018, with an 18% increase in his base salary to $2.6M while his annual cash …
Steve Burke Says ‘Despicable Me 2′ Is Universal’s Most Profitable Film Ever And Lauds Pact With Legendary
NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke made his observations this morning in Comcast‘s Q2 conference call with analysts as he discussed his company’s approach to films following its new production and finance partnership with Legendary Entertainment. Burke …
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%.
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.”