Comcast Eyes Launch of "Instant TV" Streaming Service by Year-End

Brian Roberts
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Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts

NBCU CEO Steve Burke touts a strong upfront and reiterates he is "skeptical" about OTT services launched so far, while Brian Roberts discusses Comcast's appetite for acquisitions.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke on Thursday touted the strong upfront advertising market performance of the cable giant's entertainment unit, with Roberts also again signaling that the company doesn't need to acquire anything given its strong financial momentum.

Management also discussed a planned streaming TV service, targeting millennials and cord-cutters, that it will offer without a set-top box. Called Xfinity Instant TV, it could be launched before year's end, they said.

Past reports have said that Comcast would offer the service in its current cable systems to subscribers who take its broadband service, but no pay TV package. Past reports said the service could cost about $15 per month, but executives said Thursday the company has been testing prices.

Instant TV is a reworked version of Comcast's Stream service, which has been launched in some markets, expected to offer a skinny bundle of sorts with local broadcast stations and a premium networks along with DVR functionality, according to past reports. 

Speaking on an earnings conference call, Roberts on Thursday also discussed his deal appetite. "We always look at the world around us" when it comes to possible acquisitions," he said. But "we love our business," and "we really feel we’re not missing anything." He also highlighted continued strong financial growth, saying: "I don’t see anybody quite doing that in our space."

The advertising upfront was also in focus on the call. Roberts said the company got high single-digit increases in advertising rates in the advertising upfront market this year, saying that demonstrates "the power of the big events we air across NBC Broadcast, Telemundo and our cable networks." The Comcast boss added: "We think we had the most successful upfront of anyone in the industry." NBC is also on track to win the TV season for the fourth time in row, he highlighted.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said "it was a pretty good upfront for the television business in general” and “a particularly good upfront for us." He said the company's deal volume was up 8 percent, or around $400 million, excluding Super Bowl and Olympics. Burke also said NBC has "closed a lot of the monetization gap” with rivals that the company has been chipping away at. 

In the film unit, Roberts on Thursday lauded The Fate of the Furious for becoming only the sixth film to cross $1 billion at the international box office and being Universal’s third-highest grossing movie ever. He also touted Despicable Me 3, whose "performance has been fantastic," including the largest debut ever for an animated movie in China. "Chris Meledandri’s creative ability is on full display again,” Roberts said. 

Once again quizzed on OTT services and their impact on the business, Burke said that the ones launched so far “are doing about as we expected they would do and that is they are not all that material to our business." He said NBCU has "very favorable” deals with all. “It is a very tough business, and we, as before, we are skeptical it will be a very large business or profitable business, and they are off to a relatively slow start," he concluded.

Roberts, meanwhile, also said that the recent launch Minion Park at Universal Studio Japan has “significantly exceeded” the company’s early expectations before touting the upside the company sees in Asia.

“The region holds tremendous potential for us,” he said, adding that CFO Mike Cavanagh and theme parks unit boss Tom Williams just returned from a trip to China. "We are as enthusiastic as ever about bringing a spectacular theme park to Beijing," Roberts said.

Roberts was also asked about the upcoming end of the consent decree with conditions that Comcast had to agree to in the NBCU deal. "I'm very pleased ... [with how] we complied [with] and in my cases exceeded all the requirements that were placed on us," he said. "I think it will be less of an administrative burden for sure." But he said he had nothing specific to discuss beyond saying "we have great momentum" and "we have executed really well." Concluded Roberts: "The two companies have worked really well together. And one of the themes that this will probably allow that to continue and maybe increase in the future is just how well the culture of the company is."