The comments in a conference call with analysts this morning represent one of the most forthright acknowledgements to date from a media exec that the slowdown in cable network growth reflects fundamental changes in the business, not a temporary blip. “The ratings pressure is greater than it was a year or two ago which means it’s going to be a tougher business to grow,” NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke said. “It was a double-digit growth business. It’s probably a single-digit growth business in the future.”
Like other execs, Burke dings Nielsen for failing to count all of the people who watch TV on mobile devices. “There clearly is room for improvement in measurement,” he says. For example, digital accounts for about 70% of the viewing of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon — but “the majority of those views are unmonetized… That’s not going to last forever.”
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Yet Burke adds that cable ratings are challenged because “there are so many new shows” at a time when viewers also are time shifting. Others have said that pay TV also is under pressure as streaming services led by Netflix become more popular, and advertisers see less costly ways to promote their products online.
More broadly, Comcast execs say that they’re optimistic about 2015. “The theme parks, broadcast, the movie business is on a roll and looks like that roll can continue with a very, very strong slate in 2015” including Furious 7, Jurassic World, and Ted 2, Burke says. “We still think there’s a lot of upside.… The upside resides in a lot of our businesses, but right now the big drivers are theme parks and films.”
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