Comcast Execs Tiptoe Around Questions About DreamWorks Animation Talks

Brian Roberts renews contract with Comcast through June 2015

Comcast loves news about potential deals when it appears on its CNBC. But when the cable giant is the subject of reports it would rather not discuss — as it is this morning following last night’s disclosure of its interest in DreamWorks Animation — then it describes the journalism pejoratively as mere “rumors” and “speculation.”

The company used the belittling terms this morning to explain why it would not discuss the news in a quarterly earnings call with analysts.

Wall Street seems to think more highly of the reports: DWA’s shares are up nearly 18% this morning.

Execs tiptoeed around questions that encouraged them to talk conceptually about increasing their investment in content.

NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke calls movie franchises “a key, key part of our company.” Five years ago Universal had just one, Fast and Furious. Now, he says, it has eight.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said his acquisition of NBCU “has been a wonderful experience in all regards and exceeded our expectations” adding that content and distribution are “better together.” He learned when he was on Ted Turner’s board that their “value tends to head in the same direction.”

He declined to say whether he would rather buy more content vs distribution. “When you have more than one kid, you love them equally.”

On other matters, Burke said he’s upbeat about the upcoming upfront ad sales market. Last year “a lot of advertisers pulled back…the thinking was we can always spend later and there are plenty of places to spend our money on digital.”

But “the emotion of the market has swung pretty dramatically over the last year,” he says. “People have come to the realization that broad television reach is really important….A lot of people who didn’t come into the upfront market paid significantly more in what has been one of the strongest scatter markets I’ve ever seen.”

While he didn’t put a number on the improvement he expects to see this year, “we’re in a strong position. …I would not have predicted this 10 or 20 years ago, but it feels like broadcast is getting stronger and stronger.”

The NBCU chief says that he has “a meeting of the minds” with Dish Network regarding their dispute over terms to carry the programmer’s broadcast stations and cable channels.  “I think we will have [an agreement] in the not too distant future.”

And he is not concerned about cord cutting, although NBCU’s cable networks reported “a decline in subscribers” in Q1. “We don’t see much change at all,” Burke says. An estimate of a 2% drop “is not far off from what we’re seeing. Some of it is [cord] shaving and some of it is cutting.”

Still cable networks are “resilient…As a business it’s not going to grow the way it did 10 years ago. But it’s still a good business. ”

Execs also weighed in about the FCC’s effort to help independent manufacturers sell set top boxes in competition with the ones cable operators, including Comcast, rent. The company opposes the FCC, saying that its thinking beyond boxes — a point it tried to underscore last week when it announced its first deal to offer TV signals (as opposed to internet streams) without a decoder to apps on Samsung Smart TV sets and Roku boxes.

The FCC said that the change would still require Comcast customers to use its guides and services, while competitors might offer interesting alternatives. That was “unnecessary” and “uncalled for,” Comcast Cable chief Neil Smit says.

He lauded his company’s X1 box and platform. But more broadly, he says, “instead of coming up with new hardware that will be outdated in a short period, the apps based approach is the right approach.”

In addition, “there’s no reason we couldn’t do something very similar from a technology perspective or a rights perspective” to what AT&T plan to offer later this year: national streaming services that include channels that run on DirecTV. But thus far he has not seen a streaming model”that really punts.”

This article was printed from