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Burke Sees No Sign Of Advertising Slowdown

With the stock market taking a hit due to concerns about an economic slowdown, analysts are quizzing TV executives about the health of the advertising market as media companies report second quarter earnings.

With Comcast reporting its second-quarter results Wednesday, it was NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke’s turn to proclaim that all appears to be well.

“The quick answer to your question is, we don’t see any signs of a deceleration right now,” Burke told analysts. “We are obviously concerned about the economy the way you would expect us to be, but so far the advertising market continues to be strong.”

Burke noted that the advertising market has improved significantly since Comcast acquired control of NBCU from General Electric.

“We had a very good upfront,” he said. “We actually think some of our cable channels really paced the upfront on the cable side and on the broadcast side our upfront was good too, and we’ll see how the rest of the year goes.”

Other potential revenue streams have also improved since the agreement with GE was struck.

“I think retransmission consent now is a bigger number than it was then, the kind of money that online video providers are paying for content is infinitely, almost significantly greater than it was 18 months ago,” Burke said. “So, in my opinion content is more valuable and the outlook, particularly for broadcast television, is much rosier than it was 18 months ago, but at the same time I want to caution everyone, we’re in fourth place at NBC and we got a lot of investments. We’ve told people that it doesn’t happen in one year, probably won’t even happen in two years, might take three or four, I am very confident we will get there, but we need to invest and along the way, I wouldn’t expect any miracles financially or in terms of performance.”

The earnings call marked six months since the acquisition of NBCU went into effect. “The bottom line is, we’re off to a very good start. As we said previously, 2011 is both a transition year and an investment year, so we can better position the company’s assets for future growth,” Burke said. “The good news is, we’re making investments and they’re starting to work. We’re also successfully juggling the goals of investing and growing operating cash flow at the same time.”

In addition to investing in shows from NBC, NBCU’s cable channels aired 58 original series, including 12 new serial, and increased the total number of original episodes by 12% from a year ago.

“New shows depressed cash flow initially, as we spent to launch them and amortized production costs, but ultimately if successful, new shows become profitable in their own rights and drive CPM and affiliate fee increases in the future,” he said.

NBCU is also investing in its local stations. “We’re adding news hours and about 135 people across 10 television stations, including over 40 reporters, 20 producers, and investigative units in five markets,” Burke said. “While, it’ll take time for these investments to payoff, we are already seeing some improvements in markets like New York.”

Overall, Burke says NBCU is feeling very positive. “We know there is a lot of work still to do, but we’re very pleased with our progress and feel like there are still a lot of opportunities in the quarters and years to come.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.