NBC Uni profit down in Q4, year

Leno to host D.C. dinner; Q1 Olympics loss of $250 mil

NEW YORK -- NBC Universal's profit fell 30% in the fourth quarter from the year-ago period, leaving the full-year profit down 28% at $2.3 billion. Profit for the latest quarter amounted to $602 million.

For 2010, the Vancouver Olympics will be a loss business to the tune of $250 million in the current quarter, even though otherwise, the NBC Uni business should be about flat this year, management told analysts. Previous comments from NBC Uni executives had been more vague and had signaled a loss of "a couple hundred" million dollars.

General Electric posted the financials for its entertainment unit, in which cable giant Comcast plans to acquire 51%, as part of its earnings report Friday morning.

NBC Uni's revenue in the final quarter of 2009 dropped 4% to $4.3 billion, leaving the year down 9% at $15.4 billion.

Meanwhile, Comcast on Friday said it has hired Charter Communications CEO Neil Smit to run its cable systems as president of Comcast Cable Communications. He will report to Comcast COO Steve Burke, who has also held the title that Smit is now taking. Burke will be in charge of overseeing NBC Universal.

It also emerged Friday morning that Jay Leno, who will return to the helm of NBC's "Tonight Show," will host the annual White House Correspondents' Assn. dinner on May 1.

In a conference call with analysts, GE management mentioned the Leno/Conan O'Brien situation in passing without providing new insight.

GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt and CFO Keith Sherin said that NBC Uni's cable networks were once again a key growth engine. Fourth-quarter revenue (at $1.3 billion) and operating profit were each up 8%, while broadcast revenue (down 2% to $1.6 billion) and profit were down. As throughout 2009, the film unit was a big drag on NBC Uni's results. Quarterly operating profit was more than $200 million below the year-ago figure as revenue fell more than $400 million to $1.2 billion due to a lack of theatrical releases and tough DVD comparisons.

For 2010, NBC Uni will see lower profits due the Olympics, but should be about flat otherwise, according to the GE leadership.

"The advertising market is definitely improving," Sherin told analysts. NBC scatter market ad prices were up in the low double-digit percentages in the fourth quarter and are up more than 20% in the first quarter, he said. For the cable networks, scatter pricing is up over 30% in both quarters. 

First-quarter ad demand is "pretty good" for the Olympics with some slightly better-than-expected revenue possible, but GE nonetheless expects a loss of around $250 million on the Olympics in the quarter, Sherin said.