Comcast CEO Brian Roberts acknowledged today that the cable giant had “a couple of bad weeks” with the damage to its systems from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma — and that apparently deflated an early rally for his company’s stock after a widely respected analyst upgraded his recommendation to “buy.”
Shares were up 2.6% this morning after MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett said that Comcast “will be just fine” while media companies struggle because it’s primarily an infrastructure provider — and a relatively inexpensive one following a recent downturn in its stock price.
But Comcast shares fell to -0.2% as Roberts addressed the Goldman Sachs Annual Communacopia Conference.
Following a disclosure last week that Comcast could lose as many as 150,000 video subscribers in Q3 due to the flooding in Houston, Roberts says that “we gave the answer and we will give much more clarity as we go forward.”
And he quickly sought to reframe the discussion. Over the last 12 months Comcast is “50,000 subs down…basically the same as where we started,” he says. “Our customer relationships are up, our cash flow’s up, our revenue’s up. We don’t really see a change to any of that. So I like the way we’re driving the car.”
As for NBCUniversal, the Comcast chief talked up the growth in NBC’s big events — including sports.
“As we look at 2018 we will well outpace anybody else in that strategy,” he says.
The decline in ratings “will be offset” after this year’s upfront ad sales by higher prices the company can charge for each 1,000 viewers it attracts, he says. “The total dollars continue to be very stable. That’s critical, and that happened again this year.”
In addition, the scatter market shows “continued strength,” he says. “We feel really good about what happened at the upfront and where the advertising business is for the NBC properties.”
He’s not concerned about the growth of streaming video services. Leaders including DirecTV Now and Hulu Live bought “almost everything” NBCU offers “at higher rates or the same rates” as traditional pay TV providers. “If a sub goes there, we’re going to get paid.”
Still, “we’ve yet to see that be a big driver,” he says. “We don’t have perfect real-time data on that, but our best guess is that it’s slow at the moment but appealing to a different market. We wanted to be there just in case.”
As for launching an NBCU service, similar to one Disney plans for its entertainment content, “we’ve yet to see a business model where that’s in the company’s interest,” he says. “We’re always open to thinking about things. But right now the ecosystem, while constantly having conversations and you can’t not try to evolve your product, we’re making our experiences better on each platform. That, I think, is the strategy that we can then drive higher fees.”
Shifting to the film business, Roberts says that some of the movies it inherited when it bought DreamWorks Animation “did slightly better than we expected, but some of the movies they were working on we didn’t want to continue on — we wanted to create a new slate.”
He adds that he feels “good about the film business…There’s no reason not to be optimistic that we have figured it out.”