Scorecards 2009: NBC Universal


Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The major story in 2009 and likely in 2010 for NBC Universal -- and perhaps the entire industry -- is the deal that will have GE transferring control of NBC Uni to Comcast in a complicated transaction that includes Vivendi surrendering its interest in the media conglomerate. Jeff Zucker will remain CEO of NBC Uni, which will be 51%-owned by Comcast and 49%-owned by GE, through 2013.

It was a tumultuous year at the Universal film studio, with NBC Uni president Ron Meyer ousting film unit chairmen Marc Shmuger and David Linde, promoting Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley and bringing in Debbie Liebling as president of production.

The changes came after "Land of the Lost" became one of the year's biggest disappointments. But even Universal's hits weren't all that impressive relative to other studios. Its top three movies for the year brought in just $360 million at the domestic boxoffice, less than half the $730 million brought in by the top three from Warner Bros., for example, to say nothing of the $858 million from Paramount's top three. It was a brighter picture overseas, though, as Universal Pictures International grossed more than $1 billion for the third consecutive year.

The buzzed-about titles for next year include "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe; "The Wolfman"; the animated "Despicable Me," starring Steve Carell; and "Meet the Fockers Sequel."

Problems remain at NBC despite ratings hits like "The Office" and critical faves like "30 Rock." The Jay Leno experiment has led to about a 30% decline in viewers in the 10 p.m. slot year-over-year, but executives stress that's it still is more cost-effective than a 10 p.m. drama.

On the flip side, NBC News, CNBC and Telemundo are poised to grow by double digits this year, and the company's cable entertainment channels are on track to have their best year ever in 2009.

Bravo earned the most Emmy noms in its history, Oxygen will post double-digit revenue growth, and USA was tops in primetime for the fourth consecutive year. Plus, Sci Fi changed its name to Syfy and since the rebranding has grown its viewer ranks for five months in a row. Also, MSNBC is poised to beat CNN in primetime in the 25-54 demo this year for the first time.

In 2010, look for the Winter Olympics to provide an obvious ratings jolt, and midseasoners and others that could make the peacock strut a little include "Parenthood," "The Marriage Ref" and "Chuck."

Theme parks always are a challenge in an economic downturn, but if the economy improves, Universal could have a banner year. In Orlando, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens in the spring, and in Hollywood, a King Kong attraction created under the supervision of director Peter Jackson opens in the summer. Overseas, Universal Studios Singapore will open in conjunction with Resorts World Sentosa, a complex that includes four hotels and a casino.

Unfortunately for investors, shares of NBC Uni's corporate parent way underperformed shares of NBC Uni's competitors. GE stock was up just 0.5% this year through Friday, compared with 66% for News Corp. and 58% for Viacom, for example.

Top performers

Fast & Furious ($155 million domestic)
Couples Retreat ($108 million)
Public Enemies ($97 million)

Inglourious Basterds
Fast & Furious
Public Enemies

NBC shows
Sunday Night Football
America's Got Talent

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