Execs put the Street on notice that Universal‘s movie profits may take a hit this year, but for what they see as a good cause: They expect healthy returns in 2015 from films including Jurassic World (aka Jurassic Park 4), Fast & Furious 7, The Minions (an animated spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise) and Fifty Shades Of Grey. “It’s a little bit of an up-and-down business,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a conference call with analysts to discuss this morning’s Q4 earnings report. NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke assured them, though, that “we have a very strong year” planned for 2015 and “we’re incurring that investment [in 2014] as we gear up.” CFO Michael Angelakis also said that the productions will “absorb some cash,” but he characterized the increased spending as a kind of normalization, noting that last year Comcast went “lighter on the production spend for the 2014 slate.” The company spent $1.16B on capital expenditures for all of NBCU last year — up $397M from 2012 — with much of it going to Harry Potter and Transformers theme park attractions. It expects the level for NBCU to remain “relatively flat” in 2014, with continuing theme park investments.
Execs continued to talk up the entertainment operation. Roberts says that Comcast’s early purchase of General Electric’s 49% stake was his “single most important decision of 2013.” He has high hopes for next month’s Olympics in Sochi: It set a record for ad sales for the Winter Games and, with every event to be available online, will be a “watershed moment and opportunity for TV Everywhere.” Burke also is upbeat about NBC with encouraging ratings for The Voice and The Blacklist, reiterating his argument that the network can close the gap with its peers in ad rates and retransmission consent fees. “We believe we’re off to a good start but there’s a long way to go.”
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