The NBC broadcast network, after trailing in the ratings for nearly a decade, could finish the TV season in first place among viewers prized by advertisers.
Comcast Corp. executives Tuesday lauded the peacock network's performance, which helped power the Philadelphia cable giant's earnings for the quarter ended March 31.
This season, NBC has increased its prime-time audience among viewers ages 18 to 49 — the audience that advertisers pay a premium to reach. "The Blacklist" with James Spader and the singing competition show "The Voice" have been reliable performers.
Comcast also declared its high-stakes switch of late-night talk show hosts a success. Jimmy Fallon, who replaced Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" in February, and Seth Meyers, who took over Fallon's former time slot at 12:35 a.m., have attracted more viewers in the prized advertiser demographic.
NBC's audience gains represent "an incredible turnaround story" after years of lackluster results, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts told Wall Street analysts on a conference call.
However, it was the Winter Olympics that captured the gold medal. NBCUniversal's coverage in February of the Games in Sochi, Russia, brought in $1.1 billion in revenue — the primary contributor to a 28.8% jump in revenue to $6.9 billion for the media unit NBCUniversal.
At the broadcast TV unit, which includes the NBC network and television stations, revenue was up 72% to $2.6 billion. The Olympics contributed $846 million to the broadcast network's top line. (NBC cable channels and digital platforms took in more than $250 million in Olympics ad revenue)
"Any way you look at the Olympics, it was a tremendous success," Roberts said.
Overall, first-quarter earnings for Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, exceeded analyst expectations.
Comcast's profit increased 30% to $1.87 billion, or 71 cents a share, from $1.44 billion, or 54 cents, a year earlier. The company's adjusted earnings, which excluded one-time items, came in at 68 cents a share, topping the 64-cent estimate by analysts polled by FactSet.
Quarterly revenue soared 14% to $17.41 billion, compared with $15.31 billion in the previous-year period.
The company said it had a net increase of 24,000 cable TV homes during the quarter, marking the second consecutive quarter in which Comcast picked up more cable customers than it lost.
Comcast also added 383,000 customers for its high-speed Internet service, an increasingly important and high-margin part of the company's overall business and an area attracting the most scrutiny as Comcast lobbies for approval to acquire Time Warner Cable Inc.
The earnings helped drive up Comcast stock, which has taken a beating since the company in February announced its $45-billion bid for Time Warner Cable. On Tuesday, Comcast shares increased 95 cents, or 1.9%, to $50.83.
NBC should end the regular TV season next month with ratings 12% higher than the second-place finisher, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. That should help the entire media company as it enters the crucial advertising sales season, known as the upfront, which begins next month.
"We are going into the upfront with the best position that we've had in over a decade," Burke said.
Growth at NBCUniversal was across the board. Revenue to NBCUniversal cable network group, which includes USA Network, Bravo and Syfy, increased 12.6% to $2.5 billion for the quarter. Revenue for Los Angeles-based Universal Pictures was up 11.1% to $1.4 billion for the quarter.
Comcast executives have said that if the company prevails in its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable, it would divest about 3 million cable subscribers to keep its cable TV subscriber footprint at about 30 million homes.
Comcast is in talks with Charter Communications, which provides service to about 280,000 customers in Los Angeles County, regarding potential asset swaps should Comcast acquire Time Warner Cable, according to people close to the companies.
One possible scenario would be for Comcast to pick up Charter's customers in Los Angeles.
Comcast declined to comment. On the conference call, Comcast executives said such questions were too preliminary.
Meanwhile, Comcast shot back at Netflix, which Monday became the first major entertainment company to express opposition to Comcast's proposed Time Warner Cable takeover. Netflix said the merger would make Comcast too powerful in the Internet service market with an estimated 40% share of the U.S. broadband market.
"The combined company would possess even more anti-competitive leverage to charge arbitrary interconnection tolls for access to their customers," Netflix said.
Comcast, which would be a dominant provider in many big cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, wasted no time firing back at Netflix. Comcast said the video service's opposition was based on "inaccurate claims and arguments."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times