During Comcast’s first-quarter earnings call, which was largely dominated by discussion of the company’s game-changing bid for Sky, there was also a lot for Hollywood to digest in the company’s TV and film results at NBCUniversal.
Steve Burke, head of NBCU, said the company is “entering the upfront in the strongest position since we arrived” nearly eight years ago at Comcast’s door. NBC, which is on track to capture its fifth straight year as the No. 1 broadcast network among viewers 18-49, is 40% ahead of the next-best network in the demo (Fox and CBS have been jockeying for that spot), Burke said. “We have the cards,” he said.
The quarterly results were powered by Super Bowl and Winter Olympics revenues, which totaled about $1.6 billion, but even without those there was single-digit growth on the broadcast and cable sides.
Following the pattern of many recent upfront presentations, NBCU on May 14 is likely to hit on the themes of brand safety, viewability and context relative to digital platforms, Burke said. While he didn’t specifically call out YouTube or Facebook, each of which has struggled of late with data and reliability issues, Burke noted that there is a “pendulum swing that happens between traditional linear and digital.” Based on NBCU’s conversations thus far, “for a whole variety of reasons, advertisers are coming to the conclusion that that pendulum ought to swing back in our favor. It’s not to say it definitely will, but there are certainly signs of a ‘coming home’ to a trusted environment.” Compared with the slightly more clipped remarks from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on the call, Burke preached at some length about the power of television. The medium, he said, is “where an ad can be in context, an ad can be viewed where people watch ads from the beginning until the end and behaviors change and brands are built and businesses succeed.”
The state of Universal Pictures, where theatrical revenue plummeted 35%, Burke shrugged off a question about its prospects and the fragile state of the traditional movie business. “Universal has been around for something like 105 years,” he said. In 2017, the studio set a record for box office and cash flow. Due to those comparisons, 2018 is off to a slow start, he said. But he noted the upcoming releases of Jurassic World in June and Mama Mia 2 in July, and he said the first release by DreamWorks Animation since Comcast acquired the animation outfit would be a plus in the spring of 2019.
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“Our approach to our film business has been to build on franchises and animation,” he said. “The purchase of DreamWorks Animation is going to start bearing fruit.” In response to an analyst’s question about premium video on demand and the ongoing existential battles over windowing, Burke expressed unbridled optimism about Universal’s prospects.
“Technology allows windowing to occur that will be beneficial to the film business,” he said. “It’s hard to say when and how that’s going to happen. But we’re doing so well in the film business, that’s just upside for us.”
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