NFL Ratings Not Causing Him "Too Much Concern," NBCU CEO Says

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Steve Burke also reiterates "skepticism" about near-term growth of new online TV entrants, saying they won't have a "material" financial impact in the next year or two.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke on Wednesday signaled he was not too worried about the lower NFL ratings season-to-date and the lower Summer Olympics ratings for the Rio Games compared with London four years ago.

On the Comcast NBCUniversal earnings call, he said the last NFL season was particularly strong, with ratings "down much less versus two years ago" this season.

"It is very difficult to tell precisely what's happening on any sporting property, particularly in the case of the NFL, because it's only been a half dozen weeks," said Burke. "I do think there are a lot of different things that people are using, consuming on the internet and spending their time on. I also think there are seasons that are stronger than other seasons, and we may be in a season, just speaking for Sunday Night Football, where the matchups aren't as good as they could have been."

He added: "But if you step back, the Olympics and the NFL are the two highest-rated programs of the year in all of television. They dominate the nights that they are on." The exec added that "we have very, very good partnerships with [the Olympics] and the NFL that go out many, many years, and those are very profitable relationships."

Concluded Burke: "So, we are watching it, and obviously you'd rather have ratings up than down. But having ratings decline modestly on still very, very strong properties doesn’t cause us too much concern." 

Burke on Wednesday also reiterated that he had a "healthy degree of skepticism" about the near-term growth of new over-the-top TV entrants, such as the DirecTV Now streaming service set to launch next month and planned Hulu and Google services, saying they are unlikely to create millions of subscribers “any time soon” as "most people find tremendous value" in pay TV subscriptions and "are not looking to change."

Burke added that the new entrants won't be "material" to NBCU's financials over the next year or two. He said that "there could be a modest positive for NBCUniversal," and that “the real promise of some of these new over-the-top entrants is that they would deliver incremental subscribers, which obviously would be good for the content side of the company.” The CEO said his team would keep a close eye on where things go and how many of the 20 million U.S. homes without a pay TV subscription the services will attract.

Asked about ratings methods' continued challenges to fully count audiences across platforms, Burke said everyone wants to know "the total audience delivery of a television show" wherever it gets consumed. The industry is working toward that goal, but "we are not making enough progress on that," he added.

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