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February 15, 2013

Comcast Execs Say Higher Programming Costs, Affil & Retrans Fees Expected

Following Comcast’s announcement to acquire the rest of NBCU for some $16.7bln, the firm’s financial chief Michael Angelakis called the price “fair” and “a very good deal” for both GE and NBCU during the earnings conference call Wed. “I think that they were expecting to receive half of the value of their ownership in 2014, almost two years from now,” he said. “That would have been closer to the end of 2014. Then they really had to wait until the early part of 2018 to receive the other half.” The bottom line is “they are going to receive a lot of cash.” As for Comcast, it’s “quite pleased with the price” and how the transaction’s structured ($11.4bln cash, $4bln notes, $2bln of borrowing and $725mln stocks).

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo analysts said in a research note that Comcast might be launching a national sports net, Fox Sports One, on its basic tier, which would replace Speed. Comcast reached a comprehensive distribution deal with Fox Tues. During the call, execs said they also expect programming expenses, which increased 7% YOY in ’12, to increase at low double-digit rates, because of continued expansion of rights to multiple platforms, additional channel launches, continuing increases in sports costs, retrans fee increases and step-ups for recently completed long-term agreements.

To offset these costs, Comcast has planned “modest rate adjustments,” “further efficiencies,” and improving the product mix as well as “increasing the number of customers upgrading to higher tiers of service,” Angelakis said. As a result, the firm expects to maintain “relatively stable margins.” Expanding X1, Comcast’s cloud-based initiative to the majority of the footprint this year is also part of the plan, said Comcast chmn/CEO Brian Roberts. “You will begin to see X1 more as a platform as we enable cloud-delivered applications,” he said. X1 “gives us the ability... to hang more applications and services off of it,” said Comcast Cable chief Neil Smit. The service was launched in 6 markets in ’12.

During 4Q, Comcast lost some 7K basic video subs, an improvement from the 17K it lost a year ago. On the NBCU side, Comcast CEO Steve Burke said it’s a matter of getting the full value out of its assets. “I think our affiliate fees are not what they should be both in terms of the cable channels and retransmission consent,” he said. On the advertising front, “our CPMs are lower than some of the other people in the business who have lower ratings than we do,” he said.

[Ed note: This story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily.]







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