Revenue and earnings at Universal theme parks were both “relatively flat” for the first three months of 2019, according to Comcast’s quarterly report.
Revenue for Universal parks in Orlando and around the world dropped by 0.4 percent compared to the first quarter of 2018 to just under $1.28 billion. Earnings before before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization ticked up by 0.5 percent year-over-year to $498 million.
Comcast chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh said the lack of growth could be attributed to the later spring break holiday season this year, which gave Universal parks an unfavorable year-over-year comparison. The second quarter report, however, should benefit from new attractions opening in Orlando and Hollywood.
“Towards the end of the second quarter, we will be opening a new Hagrid-themed Harry Potter roller coaster and the first phase of our Endless Summer Resort in Orlando as well as a new Jurassic World attraction in Hollywood,” Cavanagh said. “Looking ahead, we have a robust pipeline of new attractions which includes Nintendo coming to our parks starting with Japan in 2020 and the opening of our new Beijing park in 2021.”
That was the only mention of the Universal parks in the quarterly earnings call. In the recent past, Comcast has made headlines during these calls for theme park fans, such as when it confirmed last July that it was “looking at” building another Orlando park on land it owns near the Orange County Convention Center.
Overall, the company reported strong results for the quarter, with revenue and adjusted earnings both increasing by around 18 percent.
But for financial analysts, the main point of discussion was the company’s plans for a NBCUniversal streaming service in the wake of archrival Disney unveiling its own streaming platform, Disney+.
“We actually think is very, very early innings and in some ways reminiscent of Cable in the 1970s or 1980s,” said NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. “And we think there will be a lot of entrants and a lot of companies will try to enter with their own unique strengths leveraging their own unique assets. And so you’re starting to see that. In our case, NBC is the number one broadcast channel. We have a huge portfolio of cable channels. And if you add up all of our rating points, more people watch our channels than any other media companies’ channels. And then not surprisingly, we’re the number one provider of television advertising in the country. So we think those are strengths.”
Comcast is currently holds a 30 percent stake in Hulu, with Disney owning 60 percent after its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox was completed earlier this year.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts fielded a question during the call about whether the company is looking to sell its Hulu stake to Disney. NBC makes up about 17 percent of Hulu’s content.
“On Hulu, the relationship with NBC that is very much in everybody’s interest to maintain,” Roberts said. “And where have no new news today on it other than it’s really valuable. And we’re really glad we own a large piece of it.”
Media reports say otherwise. CNBC — which is part of NBCUniversal— reported Thursday that Comcast is indeed talking to Disney about selling its 30 percent stake. According to the CNBC article, the deal may hinge on Comcast’s confidence in the valuation of Hulu, the service’s ongoing losses (it is expected to lose $1.5 billion this year) and whether Comcast wants a “bargaining chip” in acquiring an asset from Disney in the future.
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