Comcast CFO: NBCUniversal Integration Continues to Go 'Really Well'

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About 10 months after the deal, Michael Angelakis says there is upside for the NBC and Telemundo broadcast businesses and reiterates that "we're not interested in losing money on sports."

NEW YORK - Comcast's integration of NBCUniversal has continued to go "really well" and "according to plan," Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis told a Wall Street crowd here on Monday morning.

Speaking at the 39th annual UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in a fireside chat led by Aryeh Bourkoff, vice chairman, head of investment banking, Americas at the bank, he said that at the end of the year that saw Comcast buy a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal in January his company is "enthusiastic" about the entertainment company's business and its executives. "So far, so good," he said.

Asked about the broadcast business, Angelakis reiterated that there are "some challenges" at NBC, but sees "great opportunities" and upside at the network and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. "They got to put better shows on," Angelakis said, but expressed confidence that the respective management teams will "deliver results over time."

Discussing sports, Angelakis said "we're not interested in losing money on sports." He cited the recent soccer World Cup rights deal signed by Telemundo as "a game changer for Telemundo" that made sense because "we are a distant number two - we should do better." Importantly though, "we think we can make some money on it," he added. He also cited the summer deal struck by NBC for additional Olympics in that context.

Asked about other parts of NBCUniversal, Angelakis said Comcast understands that the film business is volatile and hit-driven.

Meanwhile, the cable networks are "really the driver of profitability" for NBCUniversal, and management is "delighted" with their performance, Angelakis said. Just like at USA, which has been the leading cable network for five consecutive years, the goal is to use original programming to help boost ad rates, carriage and affiliate fees, he said.

Angelakis also said that advertising is holding up well across NBCUniversal and that demand for the Super Bowl and Olympics is robust.

Meanwhile, NBCUniversal's theme parks business is also doing well, the executive highlighted. Asked about potential addition of Harry Potter attractions in additional theme parks, he didn't comment. But he said: "Harry Potter Orlando has really been a reset mechanism for that park."

Neil Smit, the head of Comcast's cable systems, joined Angelakis on stage. "There is no tension here," Angelakis quipped when asked about retransmission consent fees that broadcasters have been getting from cable operators. "I don't think NBC is going to drive the market here," Angelakis said, but acknowledged that retrans fees are now a reality and here to stay.

Asked about last week's $3.6 billion wireless spectrum deal between telecom Verizon and a group of cable firms, including Comcast, Angelakis said  the deal is "strategically terrific and financially terrific."

On the financial side, he highlighted that Comcast is getting $2.3 billion in the deal - a gain of about $1 billion compared to what Comcast paid for the spectrum. 

Smit said among the likely innovations are allowing consumers the ability to start watching a video on a wireless device and continuing to do so at home. The integration aspect of developing new concepts together will be a key benefit of the deal, he said.

The partners will start promoting new wireless bundles under the commercial arrangements of the deal in four markets early in 2012, Smit said, suggesting a possible triple-play bundle with security aspects added, as well as a possible quad-play offer of four services. Comcast will continue to compete with Verizon Wireless' parent Verizon Communications in markets where it offers its FiOS TV and Internet services though, he emphasized.

What will the company do with the $2.3 billion in proceeds from the deal, Angelakis said he expects the deal to close in the next year and any new cash will go to whatever Comcast's capital plan calls for then.

Asked about his thinking on offering channels on an a la carte basis in the future, Smit said the company is more looking at offering "more choice" via a smaller content package, called My TV Choice, that is being tested in three markets with 55-60 channels. Sports, movies and kids theme packs on top of that cost $10 each, he said. "I wouldn't call that a la carte," he added.

While some cable operators have focused on the increasing financial contribution and growth of broadband Internet services, Smit told the UBS gathering that "video is still a core offering" and provides 53 percent of revenue, even though Internet services are the biggest growth driver.


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