A scene from "The Voice." (Adam Taylor / NBC )
Comcast Corp. posted strong first-quarter earnings with gains in nearly all of its business units -- except for the NBC broadcast network as the peacock's feathers once again got plucked.
Dismal prime-time ratings at NBC contributed to a $35-million loss for the quarter for Comcast's broadcast segment. Broadcast revenue plummeted 18.5%, largely because NBC did not broadcast the Super Bowl this year. In 2012, NBC benefited from $259 million in Super Bowl advertising revenue. The network was further hurt because its hit singing show "The Voice" stayed off the schedule until late in the quarter.
Excluding the big game from the first-quarter 2012 results, broadcast revenue was down 5% to $1.5 billion.
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"We really need to get one or two more good shows," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts Wednesday morning in a conference call to discuss Comcast earnings.
Burke said he is in Los Angeles overseeing the company's review of potential new shows in contention for NBC's fall prime-time schedule. He added that the company is paying "a tremendous amount of attention" to its fall slate, which NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt is to unveil for advertisers in New York in two weeks.
Companywide, the Philadelphia-based cable firm exceeded analysts' estimates. For the January-March quarter, revenue rose 2.9% to $15.3 billion.
Net income increased 17% to $1.6 billion. The company earned 54 cents a share, compared with 45 cents a share in the first quarter of 2012. When separating out a 3-cent-a-share gain for the sale of wireless spectrum, Comcast's earnings came in at 51 cents a share.
Comcast's cable operations remained its juggernaut even though the company continued to shed cable TV subscribers. The losses caused Comcast to dip below the 22-million mark in total customers.
However, Comcast gained 583,000 Internet and business services customers during the quarter, and it collected more money from its existing customers, more than making up for the losses.
NBCUniversal generated $5.3 billion in revenue, a decrease of 2.4% compared with the year-earlier period. Operating cash flow was up 17.2% to $953 million. Comcast took full control of NBCUniversal on March 19.
Cable networks including USA Network, Bravo and Syfy saw revenue increase 4.6% to $2.2 billion. Theme park revenue jumped 12.2% to $462 million as customers flocked to the Harry Potter and Transformers attractions at the Universal Studios parks in Orlando and Los Angeles.
Universal filmed entertainment revenue inched up 2% to $1.2 billion. "Les Miserables," "Identity Thief" and "Mama" performed, and operating cash flow increased to $69 million, up from $6 million in the first quarter of 2012.
"We've had a very good run in the films that we picked," Burke said, adding that the company was falling into step with other Hollywood studios, which have been concentrating on producing sequels to their hits.
"We are more focused on sequels and internationally focused," Burke said.
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