Comcast cable channels grow as NBC toils

the-voice-nbc-NBCUniversal’s cable channels business grew revenues by 4.6% in the first quarter of this year, but revenues at US broadcast network NBC tumbled nearly 20%.

The cable unit – which houses channels including USA Network, Bravo and Syfy – saw revenues for the three months to March 31, 2013, reach US$2.25 billion compared with US$2.12 billion twelve months prior. NBCU parent Comcast Communications’ Q1 financials also showed operating cash flow at the cable biz grew 6.2% year on year to US$859 million.

“With all our cable networks now together under the leadership of [NBCU Cable Entertainment Group chairman] Bonnie Hammer, we are very enthusiastic about how we can further strengthen and grow these businesses,” said Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts.

Comcast pointed to the global recent launch of Syfy’s big ticket drama Defiance, which was the network’s best rating premiere in seven years, and how a multiplatform launch lead to it performing 77% higher on Comcast’s cable platforms than on rival offerings.

However, NBC didn’t perform so well. The network saw revenues dive 18.5% to US$1.5 billion, which was mainly attributed to ratings falls and content licensing revenues. There was also an operating cash flow loss of US$35 million, higher than the US$14 million loss recorded last year.

NBCU CEO Steve Burke told investors on a conference call the network needed “one or two more good shows” besides singing reality series The Voice (above) to improve its current situation.

“We have a few other shows that are showing glimmers of hope, but we really need to get one or two more good shows. But we’re making progress,” he said. “I happen to be in LA right now, we’re going through pilots, and we’re putting a tremendous amount of focus and concentration on building on the success we’ve had so far, and developing shows that will continue to have that success next year.”

The channel last week commissioned major new reality gameshow series The Million Second Quiz, which is likely to be one of its biggest bets this year with high production values and a potential US$10 million prize for the winner.

It would still take a further few years to develop “real momentum” at NBC, Burke stressed, reiterating a prediction Comcast made when it first took a 51% stake in NBCU in 2011 that five years would realistically be needed to turn it around.

Comcast recently bought former NBCU parent General Electric’s 49% share of the business, and Comcast’s Roberts said he felt “really good about the entire transaction”.

Overall, NBCU posted revenues down 2.4% at US$5.3 million, though operating cash flow grew 17.2% to US$953 million.