NBCUniversal CEO Touts Film Franchises, Outlook for Upfront, Dish Carriage Deal

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NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke spoke on an earnings conference call on Wednesday.

Predicting a "strong" upfront, he said this was "one of the strongest scatter markets I have ever seen."

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke on Wednesday didn't address late Tuesday news that the company has held talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3 billion-plus.

But speaking on Comcast's quarterly earnings conference call, he touted the franchise films business of the company's studio, its outlook for the upfront advertising sales season and a new carriage agreement with Dish Network.

Asked if franchise films were an important part of the studio's business strategy, he said "absolutely." Burke said that "five years ago, we had one franchise," namely Fast and Furious, but "today, we have eight franchises, and we are hard at work trying to build more." Among them are the Jurassic World and Despicable Me/Minions franchises. He added that "we spend a lot of time trying to figure out where films are in the arc of their franchise."

Acknowledging that franchises "eventually" decline, Burke said "we do anything we can to make sure that the franchises that we have are as strong as possible." He said the film group's five-year plan review took place on Tuesday, and "we spent half the time talking about how to take care of franchises," creating new ones and keeping them fresh and "fully monetized." Concluded Burke: "It’s a key, key part of our company ... we have made tremendous progress in the last five years."

Asked about a possible network carriage deal renewal with Dish, Burke said he expected one in the "not too distant future." While there was no signed deal yet, he said, "I think we are in good shape with Dish — I think we have a meeting of the minds."

Discussing the advertising market's outlook, the NBCU boss said this was "one of the strongest scatter markets I have ever seen" and predicted “a strong upfront," adding that "we think we are in the pole position."

Asked about Spanish-language media arm Telemundo, Burke said it has "closed the gap with Univision," as Telemundo used to be "a weak second." Now, "we are beating Univision most nights at 10 o'clock," he said. Overall, he said that "in a number of our channels, we are still underpriced relative to people that we are beating or close to or at least competitive to."

Burke also was questioned about the latest cord-cutting and cord-shaving trends, saying "we don't see much change."

Discussing audience fragmentation, the exec said: "It's tougher to get a rating in this fragmented TV market, but when you do, you get rewarded for it significantly."