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NBC turnaround, Olympics, Jimmy Fallon help lift Comcast earnings

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The NBC network is beleaguered no more.

After nearly a decade in the ratings cellar, NBC is poised to finish the prime-time TV season in May in first place in the coveted advertising demographic of viewers aged 18 to 49. 

February's coverage of the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, generated strong viewership and $1.1 billion in revenue, Comcast executives said in announcing the Philadelphia-based company's first-quarter earnings, which exceeded analyst expectations.

"Any way you look at the Olympics, it was a tremendous success," Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Brian Roberts told Wall Street analysts on a Tuesday morning conference call. 

For the quarter ended March 31, NBCUniversal revenue was up 28.8% to $6.9 billion. Excluding Olympics ad sales, NBCUniversal revenue grew 8%.

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The Olympics were only part of the story, Roberts said, touting the job his NBC team -- including NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt -- has done to restore the peacock network to some of its past glory.

"It's an incredible turnaround story," Roberts said.

The network has made gains in prime time, especially with "The Blacklist" with James Spader and the singing competition show "The Voice," and in late night, its high-profile switches in February have paid off. Jimmy Fallon, who replaced Jay Leno at "The Tonight Show," and Seth Meyers, who replaced Fallon, quickly scored in ratings.

At the NBC broadcast TV unit, which includes the network and television stations, revenue was up 72% to $2.6 billion, primarily due to strong ad sales for the Olympics.  The Olympics contributed $846 million to the broadcast network's top line.

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.

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"We are going into the upfront with the strongest position that we've had in a decade," Burke said. He noted that NBC's turnaround should help the media company increase its share of the advertising pie during the springtime sales season known as the upfront.

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.

Los Angeles-based Universal Pictures increased its revenue 11.1% to $1.4 billion for the quarter. 

Universal Studios theme parks increased revenue 5.4% to $487 million, which illustrated strong and stable attendance at the Orlando and L.A. parks.

Overall, Comcast's first-quarter revenue was up 14% to $17.41 billion compared to the $15.31 billion in the previous year period.

Net income increased to $1.87 billion, or 71 cents per share, from $1.44 billion, or 54 cents per share a year ago.  Comcast's adjusted earnings, which excluded one-time items, reached 68 cents a share, topping the 64-cent-a-share estimate by analysts surveyed by FactSet.

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Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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