Fresh from announcing a new joint venture with General Electric to share ownership of NBC Universal, Comcast management was again out selling the deal to investors. The company reaffirmed its commitment to retaining the NBC broadcast network. Speaking at the annual UBS media conference, top executives said they saw significant upside to helping NBC get to "third, second or first place."
Company chief operating officer, Steve Burke, said he defined the NBC broadcast network as three businesses, "To us, it's the network, the broadcast stations and TV production. When you look at those three as an ecosystem, it's a good business but it's got its challenges."
Burke said: "Network rankings are cyclical. There's a lot of reasons why the guy in last place can put on more shows, while the guy in first place waits too long to retire shows." He later told investors, "There's a chance the broadcast business economics might get better," with an improving ad climate and on better ratings. He added that NBC had a valuable role since many of the shows that power the top cable network, USA and other cable properties were derived from the network. The company sees a much bigger use of NBC for promoting its cable assets. "There is tremendous financial leverage in having NBC go from fourth to third to second to first."
CEO Brian Roberts also maintained that the network would retain its affiliate structure both owned and third party along with a free broadcast signal in the air.
Separately, the executives expanded on previous presentations late last week on other ways their freshly announced joint venture would work. One thought is to use NBC News's expertise to improve local news output and to draft NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol to bring NBC production values to the Golf Channel and Versus. Comcast executives admitted that sports channel Versus makes virtually no money.
The executives also touched on the subject of hiring, indicating that the executives are hoping to attract new talent to the joint venture. "We'll be able to track and promote people from within the industry," said Roberts, who emphasized Comcast's closeness to the media business. "We are very committed and we understand what you do." Some commentators have suggested that NBC Universal's ownership by GE had hobbled the organization given the parent company focus on strict efficiencies.
Burke added: "We're going to maximize opportunities that people want to come to this company and history shows if you can create that kind of environment you attract great people."