NBCUniversal earnings soar, boosted by hit movies and Universal Studios crowds

Universal was ready for its close-up in the first quarter of the year with strong performances from several films, including “Get Out,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Sing,” while visitors flocked to the Harry Potter attraction at the company’s Los Angeles-area theme park.

NBCUniversal set a high bar for rival media companies, with revenue up 14.7% to nearly $7.9 billion in the January-through-March quarter compared with the same period a year ago. Adjusted earnings increased 24.4% to $2 billion; standout performers included the company’s Universal Filmed Entertainment unit and its Universal Studios theme parks.

But Wall Street was interested in whether labor tensions in Hollywood could interrupt NBCUniversal’s momentum. The Writers Guild of America has voted to give its leaders the ability to call for a strike as soon as next week if the union is unable to reach a new contract with a group representing producers, which includes NBCUniversal.

“Strikes aren’t good for anybody,” NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said on an earnings call Thursday morning, adding that he was optimistic a deal would be reached. “I’m hopeful we’re going to get it done.”

NBCUniversal is wholly owned by cable television giant Comcast Corp. Since the Philadelphia company acquired NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. six years ago, Burke and his team have more than doubled operating profit at NBCUniversal to more than $8 billion.

NBCUniversal continued its gains in the first quarter, with its four business segments each delivering strong results.

Universal’s film unit generated $1.98 billion in revenue, up 43% from the same period last year, which saw fewer box-office hits. The film studio’s adjusted earnings jumped 120% to $368 million.

Attendance was up at Universal theme parks in California, Florida and Japan; their revenue jumped 9% to $1.12 billion. Adjusted earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) rose 6% to $397 million.

Television also improved its financial picture. Revenue at the NBC broadcast group, which includes the flagship network, television stations and Spanish-language Telemundo, grew 5.9% to $2.2 billion in the quarter. The results were boosted by increases in retransmission consent fees paid by pay-TV operators. Adjusted earnings were up 13.4% to $322 million.

Revenue climbed 7.6% at NBCUniversal’s cable networks group to $2.64 billion. Adjusted earnings at the division — which includes USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, E!, NBC Sports and MSNBC — jumped 16.8% to $1.1 billion. Cable channels remain NBCUniversal’s most profitable division, and MSNBC’s liberal commentator Rachel Maddow helped that network in prime time.

The only sour note was a 2.9% decline in cable channel advertising, caused by lower ratings at the general entertainment channels.

Comcast continued to buck an industry trend of cord-cutting: It gained 42,000 cable television and 429,000 high-speed Internet subscribers in the first quarter.

Overall, Comcast’s revenue rose 8.9% to $20.5 billion. Net income was $2.56 billion, or 53 cents a share, up from $2.13 billion, or 43 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

Analysts projected earnings of 44 cents a share on $20.1 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the performance of our company and the trajectory that we’re going,” Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Roberts said on the call.

Comcast shares rose 2%, or 80 cents, to $39.59.

meg.james@latimes.com

@MegJamesLAT


UPDATES:

3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with Comcast’s closing share price.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.

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