NBCUniversal CEO: Studio "Is on a Roll," Cable Networks Growth More Challenging

Fifty Shades of Grey Still 2 - H 2015
Courtesy of Universal

Fifty Shades of Grey Still 2 - H 2015

Steve Burke also tells Wall Street that 70 percent of 'Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' views occur online, meaning they are not monetized yet.

"The movie business is on a roll," NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said on Comcast's earnings conference call Tuesday. After the company highlighted a record profit in 2014 for the company's studio, he said there was upside for the film unit this year amid a strong  slate.

The studio is currently benefiting from Fifty Shades of Grey, with Jurassic World, Furious 7, Minions, Ted 2 and other anticipated films also coming out this year.

There is also still "significant" financial upside for NBCUniversal overall, with film and theme parks as the key growth drivers right now, Burke said.

Read more NBCUniversal Doesn't Need to 'Bulk Up' Amid Industry Deal Talk, CEO Says

But at the company's cable networks unit, there continues to be more ratings pressure, meaning cable networks are likely more a single-digit percentage growth business in the future rather than a double-digit percentage growth business, he said, reiterating previous comments on the slowing growth rate. "The ratings pressure is greater than it was a year or two ago, which means it’s going to be a tougher business to grow," Burke said.

Viewers are increasingly time-shifting, and "there are so many new shows," Burke said. On the company's previous earnings call, he had first said that it would be difficult for cable networks to grow ratings in the future, meaning overall growth would be less. Back then, he highlighted that acquired shows are now often available via various other services, including digital platforms, and mentioned audience fragmentation and changing viewer habits.

Burke was asked about the upside from improved media measurement and how it could help make revenue from increasing digital media usage. He said that "we think about 70 percent of the views of [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon] occur online, and the majority of those views are completely unmonetized." He added that this has to change, calling the show "one of the hottest shows on television." He concluded: "That is not going to last forever. Clearly, there is going to be an improvement."

Read more Hollywood Earnings Season: Ad, Currency Woes to Affect Results

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on Tuesday reiterated Burke's overall bullishness on the outlook for the cable giant's entertainment company. He called the NBCUniversal acquisition "one of the best in our company's history," citing continued operating cash flow growth since the deal close. He lauded Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show run and the performance of USA and Bravo.

For NBCUniversal, 2015 is off to "a terrific start with Fifty Shades of Grey" in the film unit, while the NBC broadcast business is off to a good start with the Super Bowl and the 40th anniversary of SNL. Roberts also lauded such upcoming new cable networks series as Dig on USA.

Discussing a planned Beijing theme park, Burke said it would happen after 2020, meaning no capital plans are known yet.

Tuesday's call didn't touch on the future of suspended NBC News anchor Brian Williams.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai