'Snow White' perf could have Roberts more upbeat

Comcast chief Brian Roberts got a princely surprise this weekedend as Universal Pictures’ “Snow White and the Huntsman” showed some unexpected B.O. mojo just after he’d predicted a down second quarter for NBCU.

Roberts said Friday at a conference in Gotham that major misses on “Battleship” and “The Five Year Engagement” and uncertaintiy about “Snow White’s” prospects had damped the outlook for the quarter and first half.

It’s not clear if the pic’s $56 million North American cume changes that calcuation, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. U had conservatively predicted a rather dismal $30 million opening. The disparity still serves to underline Roberts’ description of the content biz as inherently volatile and hard to judge quarter to quarter.

Dual-revenue stream cable networks are a more consistent business and “that’s why we bought the company,” he said Friday at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic decisions conference in Gotham. But the first six months of the year for NBCU will be flat to slightly down, he said.

Roberts told Wall Streeters that Comcast will roll out a major advertising campaign around the Olympics this summer to promote its new X1 video interface — a welcome screen it hopes will revolutionize the relationship with its subscribers.

On the broadcast side, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt “is chipping away at a turnaround…but it’s going to take years,” he said.

He said the big upside Comcast’s seen from its acquisition of a majority stake in NBCU is cash flow from theme parks and synergies with its cable operations as it rolls out new services like TV Everywhere.

The company isn’t like to make any acquisitions on the content side until it pays off GE for the 40% of NBCU it doesn’t already own. The original deal calls for Comcast to complete the purchase by 2017, and it’s devoting NBCUniversal’s coin to doing that.

Comcast gets to keep 50% of any increase in value of the asset since the purchase, so it has a major incentive to revive NBC and get film on a steadier footing. “We have a long time to learn the business. To have some hits and misses, but to make it more valuable,” he said.

On the cable side, Roberts spoke about the new X1 interface, the industry’s most sophisticated yet, which Comcast unveiled at the Cable Show last month and has started rolling out in a few markets. The idea is for the screen — with thousands of on-demand movie choices, reviews, voicemail, email and other functions displayed — to deepen and broaden its customer relationships.

“Who’s done a great job? Apple,” he said. “It’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPad, it’s an experience…You go to their store and buy whatever they tell you to buy,” Robert said. “So we know what success looks like. In some sense we’re better on the delivery than we are in the telling.”

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