Steve Burke says animation and franchises are key for Universal

Acknowledging that the movie business is “not for the faint of heart,” NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said he’d like to see more animation and more franchise films out of Universal in the years ahead.

“We’ve had our ups and downs for the last 18 months,” Burke said at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Investor Conference in Beverly Hills on Thursday. Among Universal’s disappointments this year were “Battleship” and “The Five-Year Engagement.”

But “Ted” was a smash and “The Lorax” and “The Bourne Legacy” delivered solid numbers.

“We’d like to see ‘Ted 2' as soon as we can,” Burke said.

Burke is hoping for more from the Universal Pictures-backed animation shop Illumination Entertainment. The plan is for Illumination to go from making one film every 18 months to two a year, Burke said. Next year, Illumination will release a sequel to “Despicable Me.”

Increasing animation isn’t just a priority to help the studio. Burke also wants more animation product that can be used to create new attractions at Universal’s theme parks.


“If you want to have a great animation company, you want to have a great animation group and a great theme park group and you want them to work together,” Burke said.

While NBCUniversal’s theme parks don’t get a lot of attention, Burke said growing them is a priority. “We think it is a really good business,” he said.

As for the struggling NBC, Burke was optimistic about the start of the TV season. NBC’s “The Voice” beat Fox’s “X Factor” in the ratings Wednesday night and its “Sunday Night Football” got off to a strong start this week.

Where NBC does need to improve is in the amount of money it collects from cable and satellite operators for carrying its network. Burke said NBC “essentially makes no money on retransmission consent.” CBS has projected that by 2016 it will take in $1 billion in both retransmission consent fees for its TV stations and a cut of the money its affiliates are getting.

One reason NBC lags behind is that for years it used retransmission consent negotiations with cable operators to boost the subscription fees for its cable channels, including CNBC and MSNBC. Now the company wants to get more money into NBC’s bottom line.


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