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NBCU Chief Says He’s “Optimistic” Writers’ Strike Will Be Avoided

Deadline logo Deadline 4/27/2017 David Lieberman
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NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke says he’s “optimistic and hopeful” that a writers’ strike can be avoided.

“Strikes aren’t good for anybody,” he told analysts this morning in Comcast’s quarterly call with analysts. “I’m hopeful we’ll get it done.”

Assuming a clash can be avoided,  Burke says NBCUniversal heads into the upfront market with “our strongest hand — by a lot.” Indeed, the company has “already started discussions” with advertisers ahead of NBC’s formal presentation next month.

The TV networks plan to talk up plans to show the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and the World Cup in the 2017-18 TV season.

Burke says that the cable networks’ 16.8% EBITDA growth in Q1 was “a high water mark. I don’t think we’re going to replicate that many quarters in the future.” He anticipates low to mid single digit percentage growth rates.

He also warned that “it’s quite possible we will have quarters where ad sales go backward. But if affiliate fees go up and ad sales go backward you can still have revenue growth.”

In addition, NBCU can make licensing deals with subscription VOD providers such as Netflix and Amazon. as well as live streaming providers such as DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and YouTube TV which he says “will be moderately beneficial.”

All told, “it’ll be a grindier business than it was, but there’s a lot of cash” to invest in theme parks, consumer products, Telemundo, and digital services “that have higher growth rates,” he says.

Burke isn’t concerned that his sports business will be threatened by deals similar to Amazon’s recent $50 million agreement to livestream 10 Thursday Night Football games.

When Twitter had the rights it was “a very low, single digit percentage of the total” audience, he says.

NBC’s Olympics deals “basically wash their face very nicely based on advertising….Families will gather to watch major sporting events and they’re going to want to watch it predominantly on a big screen. And we’re happy to be the company that brings those big events to them.”

On other matters, CEO Brian Roberts cheered FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement yesterday about his plan to reverse efforts to strongly enforce net neutrality rules.

“We’re encouraged,” Roberts says. The rules that would enable the FCC to stop Comcast and other internet providers from favoring some content services over others “puts a damper on ability to invest and react to change.”

He adds that “we support and want” net neutrality, “but not in a regulatory regime designed for a different era that doesn’t apply to the business” with “dark clouds for our investment community.”

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