Peter Kafka

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Comcast Pitches NBC Deal to Investors: Check Out Our “Wow Chart”!

Comcast investors have been upset with the company ever since its plans to acquire control of NBC Universal from GE appeared in September. Now’s the time for the company to start wooing them back (at least publicly).

On the call: Comcast (CMCSA) CEO Brian Roberts, COO Steve Burke, CFO Michael Angelakis

CEO Brian Roberts: The deal will make us “strategically complete.” [Translation: We promise not buy anything else!]

Obligatory praise for Jeff Zucker for “completely transforming NBC into one of the premier cable operators in the business,” which is the same way Zucker likes to describe himself.

This deal is so incredibly easy for us to finance that we’re increasing our dividend by 40 percent. [Also, we’re doing this with both hands tied behind our back!]

CFO Michael Angelakis: If you get confused, there’s an appendix at the end of our presentation.

Did you know that Fandango is a “female-oriented” site? Me either.

Comcast has a “clear path to control” the joint venture by buying out GE’s (GE) interest, but future payouts are capped at $5.75 billion.

Debt ratings agencies have signed off on this, so don’t worry. They never get this wrong.

Roberts: Can’t stress this enough: We’re not buying a faltering film company and a flailing broadcaster; we’re buying a bunch of profitable cable channels. Cable channels. Cable channels.

Also, we’re buying at the bottom of the cycle, so some of the duds that we’re buying may end up having upside.

[Roberts is right about this, by the way: Networks really do rise and fall over time, almost independently of what management does. Remember ABC’s peril in the pre-“Lost” era?]

Oh yeah. There are some theme parks, too.

Okay. Back to the deal: Cable channels, cable channels, cable channels. They are great. We love them. Affiliate fees are growing 12 percent a year, ad sales are up seven percent a year. Check out the awesome slide on page 19. “I think this is a wow slide” (see below).

comcast wow slide

Some more praise for Zucker.

COO Steve Burke: Cable channels. Cable channels. Cable channels. We love the ones we own, but they’re “subscale” compared to what we’re buying from GE.

We’re going to cross-promote the heck out of these and figure out how to make G, Style and Versus more valuable, like NBCU does with Bravo, etc.

[We’re about 40 minutes into the call, and this is the first discussion about the Web.] The JV will be a Top 10 company with 82 million uniques.

At least for now, Comcast is still talking about “On Demand Online,” not XTREME ONLINE RAWKS or whatever the company is supposedly going to call it.


Can you give us more color on new businesses you may create once you combine? Also, what are you going to sell off?

Burke: There are “literally dozens of innovative ideas that come out of this combination.” Like interactive advertising. Targeting, etc. (via cable, not Web). We can launch new channels, new video-on-demand packages, more windows. A lot of opportunities.

Roberts: We don’t plan on selling anything. But “we have a long time between signing and closing” to learn about the assets we’re buying.

A lot of people have tried vertical integrations like this and they haven’t worked. What’s going on here? Also, how are you going to work with businesses like Hulu, which threaten your business?

Roberts: Some of these have worked. Think of [Liberty Media Chairman] John Malone’s deals. Or Time Warner (TWX) buying Turner. Or even News Corp. (NWS) and DirecTV. Anyway, that’s the past. Let’s look to the future. More important is that we believe this deal works with zero synergy benefits. [That’s for you, Jeff Bewkes.]

[Um, anyone else get bumped off the call? Nope, just me. Apologies, will go get the Hulu the rest of Roberts’s answer later, but I’m guess it was something along the lines of “we love Hulu and have no intent to crush it like a bug, and besides, we’re one of three networks that will own it.”]

Please explain how you’ll negotiate for, say, the Olympics and other assets when you don’t actually own NBC yet.

Roberts: [GE CEO] Jeff [Immelt] and Jeff [Zucker] will have to run their business until the deal closes.

What about regulatory hassles?

Roberts: No worries. This is a “pro-consumer transaction.” And check out all the things we said to that effect earlier this morning.

Burke: Both local advertising and national advertising are recovering. An analyst notes that GE has never told us much about NBCU because it hasn’t had to. So we’re going to get a much better look at how the business works going forward.

Why are you sticking your regional sports deals into this joint venture? Also, why not just hand the money you’re spending on this deal back to investors, via share buybacks?

Burke (I think): When you think of sports, its hard not to think of NBC Sports and Dick Ebersol [ahem]. Also, we think there’s some synergy with some of NBC’s local broadcast stations.

Angelakis (I think): We’ve already bought back $14 billion worth of stock in six years, and we’ll keep buying back stock. Also, check out our dividend. But we need a balance. This deal gives us financial returns and long-term strategic returns.

Roberts (I think): The timing is good. Size is appropriate–we can handle it. “You gotta like the business….We think it’s a reasonable risk. That’s what we’ve always done at Comcast.”

As for regulatory risk, if Washington wants us to make a really really serious change that blows up the rationale for doing this, we have the ability to back out. But we don’t think that’s going to happen. “Is there a break-up fee?” the questioner asks. Answer: No.

What does this mean for TV Everywhere/On Demand Online? (and Hulu)?

Burke: NBC has been careful not to put too much cable content on the Internet. We think that’s a smart strategy, “not that they asked us.” We think that going forward, you’re going to continue to have free broadcast stuff on Hulu, and cable stuff on TV Everywhere.

Roberts: Windows in general, our focus has been on expanding offerings, putting them on multiple platforms. All of those things are more likely to occur in a way that benefits distributors, content owners and consumers. “What about Hulu premium?” the questioner asks. Answer: “That’s certainly not in the cards.”

Here’s Comcast’s pitch in chart form: