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.”
PREVIOUS, 4:19 AM: The cable giant ended the quarter with net income of $908M, up 4.7% vs last year, on revenues of $14.3B, up 51.1%. But analysts expected to see earnings per share hit 39 cents, and the company just delivered 33 cents. Comcast says it was hit by a $147M investment loss in the quarter, equal to 3 cents a share, while last year it had a $109M investment gain that added 2 cents. But Comcast’s operations also will raise questions. NBCUniversal’s operating cash flow of $1B fell 1.4% — after making accounting adjustments for the acquisition and last year’s Olympics — while revenues increased 4.6% to $5.2B. That includes $1.1B in filmed entertainment revenues, a 7.8% decline. Cable networks delivered most of NBCU’s growth, with revenues up 12% to $2.1B. The broadcast business was up 2.9% to $1.5B while theme parks rose 9.1% to $580M. “Our goal for NBCUniversal is to improve and build brands, and to enhance long-term value,” CEO Brian Roberts says. “Overall, this quarter continued our momentum toward a successful integration.” In Comcast’s core cable TV business, revenues were up 5% to $9.3B — mostly due to sales of high-speed Internet and business services. Comcast ended the quarter with 22.36M video customers, down 165,000 vs last year.