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Roberts: Time was right for NBCU buy

Comcast topper 'bullish' on Peacock's future

With NBCUniversal on the upswing, Comcast chief Brian Roberts said the decision to accelerate the acquisition of GE’s remaining stake in the Peacock amounts to “buying stock in our own company and investing in business we know well.”

In a conference call Wednesday to discuss Comcast’s fourth quarter and full-year earnings, Roberts emphasized that the $16.7 billion deal, originally slated to be completed through two transactions in 2014 and 2017, was undertaken now because it helps simplify the cable giant’s balance sheet, and the financing options and tax benefits are attractive at the moment. Deal values NBCUniversal at $39 billion overall.

“Two years in, the strategic rationale for bringing together our content and distribution businesses are even stronger and better than we first anticipated,” Roberts said. “We’re bullish about NBCUniversal’s future.”

Comcast execs stressed the turnaround in the financial performance on the broadcast side of NBCUniversal.

Even with the impact of the 2012 Super Bowl and Summer Olympics excluded, broadcast operating cash flow more than doubled in 2012 to $249 million, fueled by the windfall of political advertising and NBC’s primetime gains. And retrans coin is now flowing to NBC and Telemundo stations.

“NBC’s primetime performance this fall is driving a big swing in momentum that should continue to help the network,” Roberts said. (Even though the network has since hit a rough patch in the ratings, the overall trend is in the right direction.)

Comcast also put the spotlight on the theme park biz, citing the success of the new “Transformers” ride at Universal Studios Hollywood and the Harry Potter installation at the Orlando park. “Theme parks are a real standout,” Roberts said.

On the film side, execs cited the B.O. perfs of “Ted,” “The Lorax” and “Les Miserables” as driving improvements in the studio’s cash flow, which grew 234% in 2012 to $79 million.

Looking ahead, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said that among his top priorities is to make progress on closing the “monetization gap” that NBCU faces relative to its competitors in advertising rates and carriage fees.

“Our affiliate fees are not what they should be,” Burke said. “On the advertising side our CPMs are lower” than other TV outlets with lower ratings.

He added that the “broadcast business continues to seem like a big opportunity for us” across NBC, Telemundo and local stations. And theme parks “is a business we have really come to appreciate over time,” he said.

With the GE buyout about to be completed, Comcast execs said the focus now is on “organic growth opportunities” rather than other big M&A activity, even on the international side.

“We are very focused on execution,” said Michael J. Angelakis, Comcast’s vice chairman and chief financial officer.

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