CES: Steve Burke Explains Why NBCUniversal Invested In BuzzFeed, Vox

Steve Burke CES - H 2016
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Steve Burke CES - H 2016

The exec spoke in Las Vegas as part of a media and marketing-focused keynote and panel discussion.

Almost five years since NBCUniversal was sold to Comcast Corp., CEO Steve Burke says he underestimated the entertainment company's business. 

"We were amazingly wrong about how the individual businesses did," he said Thursday during a keynote talk at CES in Las Vegas. "We underestimated the upside of the theme park business. We were much more pessimistic about the broadcast business. We value it at almost zero." 

But looking forward the next five years, Burke is placing his bet on digital. The company recently made large investments into digital publishers BuzzFeed and Vox Media, and this week officially launched comedy-focused subscription streaming service Seeso

"We need to start getting better at distributing our product on the Internet, getting better at creating new Internet businesses," he said after noting that the biggest challenge facing companies like NBCU today is the "increasing impact of the Internet on our businesses." 

Some of NBCU's digital efforts will become apparent at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer. Typically NBC will profile a handful of top American Olympians with highly-produced video packages and interviews. This year, in addition to those features, BuzzFeed will send a team of a dozen or so people to interview additional athletes. "I think it's good for us," Burke explained. "Not only will that generate viewership and ad revenue, it will get Millennials thinking about the Olympics in a way that they otherwise might not be." 

He elaborated: "One of the reasons we invested in Vox and BuzzFeed was to learn from them." 

Of course, Burke is still focused on the company's broadcast and cable businesses. During the course of his 30-minute talk with MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan, he touted NBC's Sunday Night Football and such programming as The Voice.

"If you're a marketer, it's unthinkable when you're making a big product announcement that you don't use TV," said Burke. "The idea that digital is going to supplant or destroy the TV business, I don't buy. TV advertising will growing for many, many years. We have Sunday Night Football. I think people are going to advertise on Sunday Night Football for many years."  

NBCU is coming off a strong third quarter — its second-most-profitable quarter ever, according to the studio. The company's film unit got a boost over the summer from Jurassic World and Minions. NBCU will report fourth-quarter earnings as part of Comcast's earnings on Feb. 3.