Comcast CEO Calls Universal's 'Battleship' an 'Unfortunate, Large Miss'

Brian Roberts
Angela Weiss/Getty Images

“What used to be called ‘reruns’ on television is now called Netflix.”

NBCUniversal's second-quarter results will be hurt by the weak performance of the action film and "The Five-Year Engagement."

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on Friday called Battleship, released by the Universal Pictures unit of the cable giant's entertainment arm NBCUniversal, an "unfortunate, large miss," and reiterates that the company hopes to make a profit on its Olympics rights over the coming years.

Speaking at the Sanford C. Bernstein 28th annual Strategic Decisions Conference in New York, he said NBCUniversal's second-quarter profitability will be down following a stronger first quarter. Fast Five and Bridesmaids boosted the second-quarter year-ago results for NBCUniversal. But the current quarter has been negatively affected by the "unfortunate, large miss in Battleship and another one in The Five-Year Engagement," he said.

"We'll have a negative quarter at NBCUniversal," driven partly by the two flops, Roberts said, which will leave first-half financials flat to slightly down but right around where the company had expected -- except for the effect of the Battleship flop. 

All this is proof that, as expected, "there is more volatility quarter-to-quarter" at NBCUniversal and particularly its film unit than in Comcast's core cable systems business.

Roberts reiterated that NBCUniversal under Comcast's leadership has been off "to a great start," and the "big surprise is there is no big surprise."

He also said that NBC entertainment head Bob Greenblatt is "chipping away at the turnaround," that synergy is going "extremely well" and that there is upside in such areas as online content and international.

Roberts concluded by saying he has no regrets and is "really glad we did the deal."

Asked about the Olympics, the Comcast chairman said sports content is "very, very desirable," with the company looking to break even or make a profit with the Olympics during the next decade. Comcast previously agreed to a $4.3 billion contract that will keep the Summer and Winter Games at the company through 2020.

Asked about streaming-video service Streampix and whether it is more TV Everywhere or Netflix, Roberts said, "It's a little bit of both." Given that Comcast is really good at the live TV window, "we try to expand the definition of the live window" to include more, including a show's past five episodes or a whole first season.

Roberts also expressed hope that his company would return to cable subscriber growth, saying he hoped that growth was just a question of when, not if.

Comcast also said in a regulatory filing on Friday that a majority of shareholders at its annual meeting on Thursday voted in favor of a resolution that calls on the company to seek shareholders' approval if it wants to renew an anti-takeover provision, or "poison pill," that  expires later this year. The shareholder vote on the pill, which makes a hostile takeover of Comcast difficult, wouldn't be binding. With Roberts controlling 33 percent of the shareholder vote at Comcast, critics of the pill said that other shareholders would benefit if an outside party was to make a big offer that Roberts opposed.


Twitter: @georgszalai