Burke on NBCU: First Do No Harm


NBC Universal chief Steve Burke said that with regulatory approvals behind it and the joint venture deal officially closed, his initial focus will be to help the cable networks maintain their leadership position in the industry, while improving its broadcast operations may take a little more time.
Speaking during Comcast's fourth quarter earnings conference call with analysts, Burke reminded his audience that cable networks still represent 80% of the value of the joint venture.
"One of the advantages of waiting 13 or 14 months to get a deal closed due to regulatory approval is that you get a chance to really get to know the assets, really get to know the people," Burke said. "We have a lot of big goals for NBC Universal. I would start with the fact that 80% of the value are the cable channels. The cable channels are in fantastic shape, have been growing double digits. There you just want to make sure we continue to make the right investments and continue the growth."
Burke said that the NBC broadcast network represents the biggest growth opportunity, but that may take a few years to realize.
"We have some real strength at NBC News and some real weakness with prime time," Burke said. "We think we can make progress, we are putting a variety of things in place to get that progress, but I don't think we are going to see anything for awhile."

Burke and Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts also tried to put the kibosh on any speculation that NBCU would attempt to create a sports network rivaling ESPN. Roberts said such speculation was not "realistic," but added that the companies have an opportunity to take NBC Sports and  Comcast properties like the Golf Channel, "to another level that it's never been before."

Burke said that any foray into programming, sports or otherwise, will have at least one deciding factor.

"We're here to make money," Burke said. "We're going to be disciplined. We're going to concentrate on businesses that have good returns. Businesses like USA, Bravo, Syfy, the E! channel, Oxygen, CNBC, MSNBC, these are fantastic businesses. And those businesses can do even better than they are doing right now if they get the right investment, the right cross promotion. Our job is to increase value over the longterm, we're going to do that in a disciplined way, always with an eye toward making money. That's why we're here."

Comcast closed the NBCU joint venture on Jan. 28. The partnership, 51% controlled by Comcast and 49% by General Electric, includes such cable stalwarts as USA Network, Bravo, Syfy, CNBC, MSNBC and The Weather Channel. Comcast said it would offer pro-forma financial information for the joint venture during its first quarter earnings call, scheduled for May 4.