Discovery Quarterly Ad Trends Running "A Little Bit" Behind Target

David Zaslav

Discovery Communications boss David Zaslav made $49.9 million in 2012, slightly below the $52.4 million that he had earned in 2011. But that was enough to see him yet again rank just behind Moonves in terms of compensation for bosses of big entertainment companies. The year-over-year drop was due to changes in the value of his stock options, even as the company’s shares rose more than 50 percent last year.

David Zaslav also once again raises concerns about the planned Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal

Discovery Communications is seeing third-quarter advertising revenue growth slightly behind the mid-single digit percentage range management has predicted amid soft summer ratings, CEO David Zaslav said Wednesday.

He highlighted difficult year-ago ratings comparisons.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs 23rd Annual Communacopia Conference in New York in a session that was webcast, he said: "We are definitely hurt by the fact that [the quarter started off somewhat weak] on some of our big networks….I would say it's a net negative…We are a little bit behind heading into September. We will have to see where our September numbers are."

Summarizing current trends as of early September, he said: "TLC is off to a good start. OWN had a big start to September, and Discovery is doing better." TLC has been further growing its ratings over the past year with the help of shows by Tyler Perry.

Did the weaker-than-expected upfront advertising sales this year signal a shift by marketers from TV to digital ad media? "We haven't seen it," Zaslav said, but added that his team does recognize that consumers are spending a lot of time on other media platforms these days. He said ad clients still seem to feel that TV remains the best way to reach big audiences, reiterating similar bullish comments from other industry executives

With networks having held back ad inventory amid soft upfront trends to sell it in the scatter market closer to air-time, Zaslav was also asked Wednesday how that is playing out. "So far, we are winning the bet," he said. "But it's very early."

Zaslav on Wednesday also once again raised concerns about the planned Comcast acquisition of much of Time Warner Cable, saying it raises "some serious issues" and would be "a big swing" for the industry. He said Discovery is talking to the FCC about it and hasn't formed "our final view of it yet."

He also once again predicted that the FCC review could run into the second quarter or summer of 2015. Comcast has targeted a deal close for early 2015. Shareholders of both firms will vote on the deal next month.

Jason Armstrong, senior vp of investor relations at Comcast, later in the conference said that Comcast continues to expect an early 2015 deal close. He said the current review clock points to a decision by around Jan. 6, but the clock could be stopped for a while, as in past deal reviews, and restarted.

Customer service is getting "a ton of attention internally" as part of the deal planning, he said. Customer service is difficult to model for analysts, but management is "incredibly focused on" it, Armstrong said.  

He also said that Comcast-owned entertainment giant NBCUniversal has further upside in terms of carriage fees and advertising rates where the company is still underperforming peers.  

Sept. 10, 8:55 a.m. Updated with Comcast comments.

Twitter: @georgszalai