L.A.-Harry Potter theme parks, 'Fifty Shades' boost NBCUniversal profit

Universal theme parks, Universal Pictures help drive NBCUniversal first-quarter profit

NBCUniversal is celebrating its wizarding world of Universal Studios.

Four years ago, when Comcast took controlling interest of NBCUniversal, the Universal theme park unit was something of a humdrum affair that generated about $400 million a year for the company.

Fast forward to 2015, and theme parks have become the fastest-growing segment of the media company. This year, the parks in Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles should generate $1.3 billion in operating cash flow. 

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For the record

May 8, 3:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Universal theme parks would generate $1.3 billion in revenue this year. The theme parks are expected to make $1.3 billion in operating cash flow, a measure of profitability.

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The Orlando park, which boasts the hugely popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, has been a bright spot for the company. The theme parks' financial results reinforce the company's strategic decision early on to consolidate ownership of the Orlando park.

"We see many, many years ahead of us in growth," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told Wall Street analysts on an earnings call Monday morning.

Overall, NBCUniversal posted a strong first quarter although its revenue of $6.6 billion was down 4% on a year-over-year basis. The lower number was due to a tough comparison with 2014, which was boosted by revenue generated by NBC's broadcast of the Sochi Winter Olympics. 

This year, NBC televised the NFL championship Super Bowl during the quarter, which produced $376 million in advertising revenue. That wasn't enough to match the $846 million in Olympics revenue gold in 2014, which spans 17 nights of prime time.

NBCUniversal's operating cash flow, a measure of profitability, was up 14% to $1.5 billion for the January-March quarter.

NBC exhibited some weakness in its cable television unit, which is the media company's biggest profit driver. The cable TV unit, which includes USA Network, Bravo, E!, NBC Sports and CNBC, generated $2.4 billion in revenue, a 6% decline.

The broadcast unit, which includes NBC, Telemundo and TV stations, raked in $2.25 billion, a decline of 14%.  Excluding the effect of the Olympics and Super Bowl ad revenue, the broadcast group would have been up 5.5%.

Los Angeles-based Universal Pictures increased 7% to $1.45 billion.  The quarter was fueled by the blockbuster release of "Fifty Shades of Grey" in February, which contributed to the unit's $293 million in profit.

The current quarter is expected to be a juggernaut for Universal because of its blockbuster movie "Furious 7," which has already generated more than $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office. The haul has made the film, starring Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, one of the biggest movies of all time.

The Universal theme parks generated $651 million in revenue, a 33.7% increase over the year-earlier period.  Theme parks' operating cash flow was up nearly 55% to $263 million for the quarter.

NBCUniversal spent more on theme park investments during the quarter.  In Los Angeles, it is supporting the minion-rich "Despicable Me" attraction.

Twitter:@MegJamesLAT

 

 

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Correction added

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