NBCUniversal CEO "Hopeful" on Writers Talks, Bullish About Upfront

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Steve Burke

Steve Burke says "strikes aren't good for anybody," and his company's networks are heading into the upfront season "with the strongest hand we have ever had."

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said Thursday he was hopeful about the talks with Hollywood writers ahead of a potential strike that could start next week.

"In the majority of cases, things get resolved," the exec said when asked about the talks and the looming strike on cable giant Comcast's first-quarter earnings conference call. "And I am optimistic and hopeful that the writers strike will get resolved."

He added: "Strikes aren't good for anybody. … People on both sides of the table tend to lose, and I am hopeful that we are going to get it done, and we are coming down to the deadline."

Burke also lauded the performance of NBCUniversal's TV operations, saying they position its networks well for the upcoming upfront advertising selling season.

"We are going into the upfront with the strongest hand we have ever had by a lot," he said, mentioning that NBC's relative primetime lead is its biggest since the early 2000s. Burke also cited the strength of Telemundo being "neck-and-neck" with rival Univision in primetime, and said CNBC "is beating CNN in prime most nights." He also pointed out that the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics return in 2018, as well as the soccer World Cup on Telemundo, and added that the ad market was "quite strong."

The CEO also said that when Comcast first bought into NBCUniversal, its operating cash flow amounted to around $3.5 billion a year, but this year he said he expects around $8.3 billion-$8.5 billion. "I think we can continue to find places to grow," said Burke, citing Telemundo, consumer products and other areas with more upside. 

Earlier on the call, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts lauded NBC for being the top-ranked network in primetime for the fourth consecutive season. "Congratulations to Bob Greenblatt and everyone at the network," he said.

The film team also received his admiration. "In film, as I have said repeatedly, we have an exceptional management team at Universal that is taking smart risk and using skillful marketing, and the results speak for themselves," said Roberts. "Our box-office strength has continued in the second quarter" with The Boss Baby and The Fate of the Furious

The company earlier in the day reported improved quarterly earnings, including higher results at entertainment arm NBCUniversal, driven by its film and broadcast TV units.