New NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke: NBC Network Turnaround Will Take Years

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“We are here to make money,” he tells a conference call about the approach that new owner Comcast is taking to the entertainment company, and he also mentions Telemundo as a business with upside.

NEW YORK - New NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said Wednesday that he is not expecting a quick turnaround at NBC, but that the broadcast network has the most room for upside over several years when looking at his company’s range of businesses.

On Comcast’s quarterly earnings conference call, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts similarly said that the new leadership of the entertainment giant, of which Comcast acquired control last month, is in a position to build value longer-term at NBCUniversal’s film and broadcast network units, while near-term benefits can be reached in the well-performing cable networks division.

For those in doubt, Burke emphasized that cable giant Comcast is looking to get more value and financial returns out of all of the entertainment company’s assets.

“We have a lot of big goals for NBCUniversal,” which the company could start thinking about during the long regulatory review of the transaction last year, Burke said without detailing specifics. But he highlighted that 80 percent of profitability comes from the firm’s cable networks unit, meaning its other assets have room to grow.

He said the “biggest opportunity over the next few years” lies in the NBC network, signaling that people should see improvements in that business over three, four or five years. “We certainly don’t expect to see anything in the next year,” he said, adding that the company is putting things in place to ensure a rebound in primetime. “I don’t think we’re going to see anything for a while.”

Burke also cited Telemundo and international markets as key businesses with upside opportunities for NBCUniversal.

Meanwhile, the company’s cable networks are “in fantastic shape,” Burke said, citing USA, Bravo, Syfy, CNBC, MSNBC and others. But he said even these networks can do “even better” if management gets cross-promotion and investment right.

Roberts on Wednesday signaled that he is not in a hurry to challenge ESPN in the sports realm with the newly merged NBCUniversal sports assets as some have suggested, but looks to create a stronger sports behemoth over time.

He said his team is focused on long-term opportunities between former Comcast cable channels, such as the Golf Channel, which are now merged into NBCUniversal, and other company assets as part of a broader range of opportunities. “I don’t really see that as a realistic thing,” Roberts said. “People talk about ESPN and other things. I think we have a long-term opportunity to take these brands to do things” and take them to a new level.

Burke in the context of the discussion of sports and the future of Olympics coverage, on which NBC lost money last year, emphasized that his team will always have an eye on making money - a possible nod to Wall Street that any sports right bids will be rational and with an eye on financial returns. “We are here to make money, and we’re going to be disciplined” and focused on businesses that make financial returns, he said. “That’s why we are here.”

Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis told the conference call that the NBCUniversal deal was structured to  ensure double-digit returns. Day-one integration “went smoothly,” he said.  He and his colleagues pointed out that NBCUniversal has entered 2011 with good momentum.

Roberts also reiterated that the NBCUniversal regulatory conditions “will allow us to effectively execute” on the company’s plans and vision. He lauded the “many new opportunities” for the new mega-combination, but didn’t offer specifics. "Now it is really all about execution," he added.

Comcast said it will consolidate NBCUniversal results when it reports first-quarter results on May 4.