Comcast is an island of calm in the middle of industries battered by competitive storms, executives told analysts today in their quarterly call to review earnings.
NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke says he’s unfazed by the growth of over-the-top video services such as AT&T’s DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu Live, and Dish Network’s Sling TV. They are “not all that material to our business.”
“We have deals in place with all of them,” he adds. “They’re actually very favorable, so if someone goes to an over the top provider it’s actually slightly better. But it’s a very tough business and we’re skeptical it’s going to be a very large business or profitable business for the people that are in it. And they’re off to a relatively slow start.”
Despite their growth, his networks’ subscriber trends “are the same as they have been: no speed up or slow down in the amount of subscriber losses we’ve seen over the last few years.”
Meanwhile, Comcast is weighing its own Xfinity Instant TV, a streaming service that could cost as little as $15 a month and would be available to customers in the territories it currently serves. It’s being tested in Boston and Chicago and the company says could be introduced by the end of this year.
Burke acknowledged that “linear [TV] ratings are going to continue to decline.” Still, when you add internet viewers, “overall video consumption…is as high as it’s ever been.” The business is “certainly more challenging, but I like our hand.”
For example, he says that the recent upfront market “pretty good” for the TV business and “particularly good for us” with higher than average increases in the prices charged for each viewer reached.
The company increased the volume of its sales by 8%, adding $400 million to the total, not including Olympic and Super Bowl sales, he says.
“We think we led the market in terms of broadcast by a few points and cable was at the high end of the range,” Burke says. And “we’re doing well in terms of our advance sales for the Super Bowl and the Olympics.”
He rejects the view that the company simply saw ad buyers move dollars into the upfront market, instead of waiting to buy later in the scatter market. “Demand for the last two or three years has been remarkably consistent throughout the year.”
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts says NBCU saw “high single digit growth” in per-viewer unit prices “demonstrating the power of the big events we air across NBC broadcast, Telemundo, and our cable networks. We think we had the most successful upfront of anyone in the industry.”
Roberts dismissed speculation that Comcast is eager to buy other companies — one analyst yesterday said that Verizon might be a ripe target.
“We always look at the world around us and we do our jobs,” he says. But “we love our business” and “we’re not missing anything…We have a really special company and I wouldn’t want to do anything to change that.”
He described wireless phone service as “a tough business.” He adds that he likes Comcast’s new Xfinity Mobile service that depends heavily on its WiFi networks, with cell call connections provided by Verizon. “It will be a long road. But I don’t see something happening in that [wireless] industry that we envy a position we don’t have today.”
And on the content side, he isn’t lusting after “content for content’s sake.”