Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

NBC U Perks Up a Bit for Its New Owners

This should make the folks in Philadelphia feel a bit better about their purchase-to-be: GE says that its NBC Universal unit, soon to become a Comcast property, had a decent third quarter.

Unofficially, that is. For the record, GE says that Jeff Zucker and company booked flat revenues and saw operating profit drop by 15 percent. But a year ago NBC had booked a gain after moving around ownership stakes in the A&E TV venture it co-owns with Hearst and Disney.

Strip those one-time benefits out, GE says, and its 2010 Q3 would show a seven percent revenue hike and a five percent bump in operating profit.

That’s better. “A pretty solid quarter,” in the words of GE CFO Keith Sherin.

Here’s GE’s highlight reel for the business, which Comcast will likely own by the end of the year. (Click to enlarge.)

Meanwhile, Zucker, who has a few months left on the job, is much, much more enthusiastic about his company’s performance. Here’s his all-hands letter to employees sent out this morning:

GE reported its earnings today, and I wanted to take the opportunity to congratulate everyone on NBCU’s very strong results. Looking just at our operations, these are our best third-quarter results since the NBC-Universal merger more than six years ago. Truly a record performance.

Although our segment profit as reported by GE shows us down, this is driven by the impact of one-time, non-operating events and transactions that took place in the third quarter of last year (such as the one-time gain from the change in our interest in A&E Networks). On an operating basis, our profit was up 32% versus last year (or 5% excluding the impact of charges taken by certain divisions in the third quarter last year). Given that the economy, although improving, is still far from robust, these are excellent results driven by superior execution throughout our operations.

We had exceptional performances from a number of our divisions, including Cable Entertainment, Local Media, Film, and Theme Parks. Cable Entertainment posted a double-digit increase in operating profit, behind great results at each of our networks. Local Media was up an amazing 87%, as increased revenues from a resurging local ad market hit the bottom line. Film op profit was up 57%, driven by Despicable Me, which performed well ahead of expectations. And Theme Parks had the best quarter in its history, with op profit up 59%, the result of the new Harry Potter attraction in Orlando and the new King Kong 360 in Hollywood.

Here are some of the other highlights:

· USA was the No. 1 cable entertainment network for the 17th quarter in a row, an incredible string of success, and Syfy finished the quarter ranked No. 8 in adults 25-54

· Bravo had its best quarter ever and now has 20 consecutive quarters of ratings growth, and Oxygen had its best 3rd quarter ever

· CNBC posted increases in both revenue and op profit, and MSNBC continues to operate from a position of strength, beating CNN in primetime for the 4th quarter in a row and beating CNN in total day for the first time in a decade, while also launching a very exciting new marketing campaign

· Through the first five weeks of the NFL season, Sunday Night Football is averaging nearly 22 million viewers, the most for the first five weeks of a primetime NFL package in 14 years

· NBC is tied for No. 2 through the first three weeks of the new season, up 4% versus a year ago to make it the only major English-language network to grow year-to-year

· Jay Leno continues to be No. 1 since returning to his old timeslot, and Jimmy Fallon holds a 35% lead over CBS in his time period

· NBC News remains No. 1 across the board and recently hosted a fantastic public-service programming event called Education Nation, an effort that should make us all proud to be part of this company

· Telemundo has the highest-rated novela in its history with Donde esta Elisa, and mun2 had its best quarter in all key demos

There is so much to be proud of! Congratulations and thanks again to everyone, because I know, whether you are part of one of the businesses mentioned above or not, you are working hard to keep this company great, and I truly appreciate it.

At the same time we are notching these business successes, our transition teams are hard at work preparing for the new NBC Universal. We’re on track for a close of the transaction with Comcast, hopefully by the end of the year. As I’m sure you know, the timing will ultimately be determined by the FCC and the Department of Justice. We’ll have a clearer idea about timing as we get into November.

One other thing about the transition. You have received information about your new benefits, and I urge you to pay attention: review the information on the intranet, attend the benefits sessions, and enroll yourself and your family in both the GE and the new NBC Universal benefits plans. I hope each of you give this the attention that it deserves.

The company is really in a terrific place right now. We have a Cable Entertainment group that is on track to record its fifth straight year of record earnings. A Theme Parks division that is on track to have its best year ever. A Local Media division that will likely more than double its earnings from a year ago … and much more. And making it all happen are 15,000 employees who love this company, understand what we do, and are committed to doing it better and better every day. Thank you very much. Your strength of character, and the strength of our operations, will ensure a strong end to this year.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus