Entertainment Industry

Category: NBC Universal

Comcast profit jumps 30%, with mixed results at NBCUniversal

Comcast Corp.'s earnings jumped nearly 30% in its first quarter as more customers signed up for high-speed Internet service.  But the cable Goliath also showed strength in some an unexpected quarters: the long-lagging NBC broadcast unit and Universal Pictures, which released two hit movies, including "The Lorax."

For the quarter ended March 31, the Philadelphia-based company said its net income grew to $1.22 billion, or 45 cents per share, from $943 million, or 34 cents per share, from the year-earlier period.

Comcast generated consolidated revenue of $14.88 billion -- an increase of 23%.

"I'm really pleased with our start in 2012," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in a Wednesday  morning conference call with analysts.  "Cable had another outstanding quarter.... We are starting to make some progress in broadcast."

NBCUniversal revenue was up 18% to $5.5 billion, in large part because the NBC broadcast network raked in $259 million in Super Bowl advertising revenue. (Excluding the Super Bowl, revenue at NBCUniversal was up 12.4%).

Roberts reminded analysts that NBCUniversal results would be volatile because of the hit-and-miss nature of movie box office and higher television programming costs. Comcast has been spending more on programming to try to lift the peacock network to profitability.

Operating cash flow at NBCUniversal was up 34.3% to $813 million compared to the first quarter of 2011.  In terms of revenue, NBCUniversal cable networks generated $2.1 billion in revenue versus $2 billion in the year-earlier period.  The NBC broadcast unit pulled in $1.85 billion in revenue (including the Super Bowl) compared to $1.35 billion in the year-earlier period. Film entertainment revenue swelled to $1.19 billion from $975 million in 2011. Theme parks generated $412 million, up from $390 million.

However, the company's operating cash flow margins were lower at cable networks due to higher programming and production costs, including those for NBA basketball. The broadcast unit posted an operating cash flow loss of $10 million, reflecting higher programming costs and higher marketing expenses to support the launch of mid-season shows, including "Smash."

"We're starting to make some progress but there is a long way to go," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. "And in film, we have a much stronger slate this year." Among Universal's upcoming film titles are the big budget action film "Battleship," the dark fairy tale "Snow White and the Huntsman," and a new iteration of the successful "Bourne" series.

Comcast is the nation's largest cable television and high-speed Internet provider. It holds a 51% controlling interest in NBCUniversal. 


Top Comcast executives take a pay cut in 2011

CBS will break financial records in 2012, CEO Leslie Moonves predicts

Comcast fourth-quarter profit jumps 26%; NBC and film unit lag behind

-- Meg James

Photo: Comcast Cable company trucks in Southern California / Credit:  Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times.

Hulu owners to buy Providence Equity's stake for $200 million

Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar

Providence Equity Partners is selling its stake in online video service Hulu for about $200 million, according to people familiar with the situation.

The move, first reported by Bloomberg News, is expected to give at least two of Hulu's media company owners -- News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. -- a greater ownership stake in the rapidly growing online service. 

The 5-year-old service now has more than 2 million paid subscribers to its Hulu Plus offering, and about 38 million visitors a month to its free site, which offers catch-up episodes of such popular television shows as "Glee," "Revenge," "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." 

The buy-out of the private equity firm would resolve some of the tensions that have been simmering for more a year. The stakeholders have long argued about Hulu's direction, priorities and monetization strategy.  Nine months ago, the partners considered selling Hulu, but the media companies opted not to shed the venture because they did not want to lose control of the online distribution of their valuable content.

All the while, the Rhode Island-based Providence Equity made it clear that it was increasingly interested in cashing out its stake.

People close to the situation, who asked not to be identified because no sales deal has been finalized, said the media companies have a "hand-shake agreement" to pay Providence Equity about $200 million for its 10% stake.  However, these people said, the overall valuation of Hulu would be less than $2 billion. The partners instead agreed to pay Providence a premium on its investment.

The approximately $200 million payment would allow Providence Equity to double its investment. The firm contributed $100 million in 2007 to help founding companies NBCUniversal and News Corp. launch Hulu. Disney came aboard as a partner in 2009.

Hulu's ownership structure has been complicated by NBCUniversal's equity stake.  Although the media company helped launch Hulu, NBCUniversal's new controlling owner -- Comcast Corp. -- agreed to give up NBCUniversal's seats on the Hulu board and any voice in the management of Hulu as part of a 2011 settlement with federal government. The Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission, government agencies that reviewed Comcast's takeover of NBCUniversal, were concerned that Comcast might use its interest in Hulu to stymie the development of an online video service that competes with Comcast's core business of providing bundles of television channels to consumers. 

The two managing partners -- News Corp. and Disney -- have not determined whether to use cash on hand to buy out Providence, thereby increasing their stakes in Hulu, or bring in more private money, according to one person close to the situation.

The agreement being worked out also would allow the vesting of some shares held by Hulu's chief executive, Jason Kilar, and other ranking members of management. However, one person close to Hulu said that Kilar is expected to stay on, at least in the short term, to run the company.

Both Hulu and Providence Equity declined to comment.

In an interesting twist, the news comes in the same week that Providence announced it would invest $200 million in Peter Chernin's entertainment company, The Chernin Group.  Chernin was one of the architects of Hulu, when he was president of News Corp., and he brokered the deal to include Providence Equity in the ownership structure. In addition, Chernin was named a senior advisor to Providence Equity.

Chernin, through a spokeswoman, declined comment.


Hulu's Jason Kilar thinks different about television

Hulu launches "Battleground," its first original show

Hulu is popular, but that wasn't the goal

-- Meg James

Photo: Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar at the company's Santa Monica headquarters in July 2010.  Credit:  Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Top Comcast executives take a pay cut in 2011


Comcast Corp.’s highest-paid executives — Chief Executive Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke — experienced compensation deflation last year.

Roberts’ pay package shrank 13.3% in 2011 to $26.9 million. That included a performance-based cash bonus of $5.5 million for the 52-year-old executive.

Meanwhile, Burke’s compensation dropped a whopping 32% to $23.7 million, which included a performance bonus of $6.7 million. The 53-year-old executive’s amount fell dramatically in 2011 as it was the first time in three years that he did not collect a signing bonus.

Burke, who took over management of NBCUniversal last year when Comcast acquired controlling interest in the company, received bonuses of about $10 million in both 2009 and 2010 for extending his contract.

The compensation, disclosed Friday in a proxy filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, put the managers of the Philadelphia-based cable and entertainment giant in the middle rungs of corporate pay across big media conglomerates.

By comparison, CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves received a package valued at $69.9 million last year, Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav received $52.4 million; Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman captured $43 million, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger collected $31.4 million, and Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes got $25.9 million. SteveBurkeNBCUniversalChief

Three years ago, Comcast’s top executives agreed to a four-year freeze in their base salary. Roberts’ base salary was $2.8 million; Burke’s was $2.24 million.

The top Comcast executives could have received fatter packages last year. The company achieved substantial growth in revenue and free cash flow, but its top executives elected to bring their performance base bonus calculations more in line with how their underlings are paid — and the Comcast board's compensation committee agreed.

In its proxy, Comcast said its operating management’s “cash bonuses are based primarily on business unit operating metrics rather than consolidated financial performance.”

Chief Financial Officer Michael J. Angelakis last year received a total package of $21.9 million, which was a 4% decline from his 2010 compensation. In contrast, Executive Vice President David L. Cohen accepted more stock and other bonuses which boosted his take 19% to $15.1 million.

Comcast Cable Communications Chief Executive Neil Smit collected $18.5 million in 2011, including a $3-million cash performance bonus. This was the first time that Comcast was required to disclose Smit’s earnings. Smit joined Comcast two years ago but he did not become a top corporate officer until last year when he was named chief executive officer of Comcast Cable.

And Ralph J. Roberts, the 92-year-old co-founder of the cable company, collected his customary $1-a-year salary.


Netflix Chief Reed Hastings got 68% raise in 2011; pay cut for 2012

CBS Chief Leslie Moonves collected nearly $70 million last year

David Zaslav is Discovery's $52-million man

— Meg James

Top photo: Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts in 2007. Credit: George Widman / Associated Press.  Bottom right: NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke in 2010. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press.

Could NBC's 'Smash' get a ticket to Broadway?

  Uma Thurman on 'Smash'

Could "Smash" be headed to Broadway? When NBC developed the prime-time TV musical drama about cutthroat competition on Broadway, the network buttoned up the rights for a Broadway version of the TV show.

The series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, which NBC recently renewed for a second season, is a long way from getting to the real Broadway. Still, the show has been a passion project for NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt for years, and it boasts a large cast of executive producers with elite pedigrees and credentials in the theater world.

Steven Spielberg brought the idea for a TV show about a Broadway musical to Greenblatt about three years ago, when Greenblatt was head of entertainment at premium cable channel Showtime. But Showtime's tight budget provided little canvas for Greenblatt to paint an ambitious slate of programming.

"Smash" languished until Greenblatt moved to NBC early last year, where the show got an immediate greenlight. Greenblatt and Spielberg, who has invested in other Broadway shows, recruited producers with musical credits, including Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, part of the producing team behind the film versions of the musicals "Chicago" and "Hairspray."

Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were brought on board to compose the original songs that are performed on "Smash." The duo retains certain rights to that music -- and that ownership presumably would carry over to any Broadway version of the NBC series. (Shaiman and Wittman also wrote songs for Broadway productions of "Hairspray" and "Catch Me if You Can," in addition to the music for numerous feature films, and have won Grammys.)

By the end of the first season of "Smash," there will be at least 15 original songs written for the fictional musical around which much of the series' action revolves. In the TV show, the fake musical is called "Bombshell." 

But does that mean it's Broadway-bound?

"Since our creative team has been writing songs and snippets of 'Bombshell' scenes only to tell the stories of our characters in 'Smash,' there is no fully realized 'Bombshell,'" Greenblatt wrote Thursday in an email to The Times. 

"I'm not saying that it will never happen, but we are all focused at the moment on completing our [Season 1] finale episode and have already started talking about the macro ideas for Season 2," Greenblatt wrote, adding that next season will feature a second musical, as the fictional "Bombshell" heads to the fictional Broadway.

"So no one has thought twice about trying to find the time or energy to develop 'Bombshell' for the stage," Greenblatt wrote. "It takes several years to write and construct a big Broadway musical, and most of the hard work starts at the script stage before the songs are even conceived."

Greenblatt has long been interested in theater. Several years ago, Greenblatt persuaded his mentor Peter Chernin, former president of News Corp., to release the rights to the 1980 Fox movie, "9 to 5," starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

From that, Greenblatt, while working at Showtime, produced the show, "9 to 5: The Musical," which opened in Los Angeles in the fall of 2008 and went on to have a five-month run on Broadway in 2009.  (Megan Hilty, who played the Dolly Parton role of Doralee Rhodes in "9 to 5: The Musical," plays one of the prospective Marilyn Monroes on "Smash.")

Now some wonder whether "Smash" could eventually pave the way for a return engagement by Greenblatt on the Great White Way.

Bob Greenblatt"I am working full time at NBC and it wouldn't make sense for me to be a producer," Greenblatt said -- but he added, "Maybe I could produce 'Bombshell' when I'm long gone from NBC, which would be about the time that [a Broadway project] would come to fruition."

NBC, controlled by cable giant Comcast Corp., has a more riding on "Smash" than a potential Broadway play. The ailing network banked heavily on the program to improve its anemic ratings and serve as a beacon for more sophisticated programming. NBC has spent nearly $70 million making and marketing the first season of "Smash."

The show has delivered only modest ratings. Six million viewers tuned in Monday night, although NBC executives have been encouraged that the audience grows by about 2 million people, who record the show and watch it after it airs on TV. 

NBC announced last month that it would bring "Smash" back for a second season. The network noted that "Smash" draws one of the most upscale audiences in network television, coming in behind another musically themed series, Fox's "Glee."

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, which adds attention to efforts to bring her story to life. (DreamWorks Television and series creator playwright Theresa Rebeck also have an ownership interest in the television version of "Smash.")

And there could be competition if NBC decides to trundle "Smash" to Broadway. Last fall, producer Harvey Weinstein said he was interested in turning his company's Oscar-nominated feature film "My Week With Marilyn" into a Broadway musical featuring Katy Perry. 

It would not be the first time that NBCUniversal dabbled on Broadway. The company has an ownership interest in one of the most successful productions of all time, "Wicked." That musical is produced by former Universal Pictures production executive turned Broadway producer, Marc Platt.


"Smash:" Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman want to make viewers hum

"Smash" will return, but showrunner Theresa Rebeck departs

NBC's Bob Greenblatt:  We had a really bad fall

NBC's "The Voice" is strong; "Smash" not so much

-- Meg James

Top photo: Uma Thurman (center) next week will join the cast of NBC's drama "Smash" for a five-episode story arc. Thurman is pictured with actors Yami Mufdi and Sean Dugan. Credit: Will Hart / NBC  

Bottom photo: NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt in 2009. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Hulu's Jason Kilar 'Thinks Different' about television

Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar chose the advertising agency's conference in Los Angeles to do his own riff on Apple Inc.'s "Think Different" campaign.

Instead of saluting "The Crazy Ones" from the memorable TBWA/Chiat/Day ad campaign from 1997 that heralded the rebirth of Apple -- and featured some seminal figures of the 20th century, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and Albert Einstein -- Kilar offered his own pantheon of innovators.

Kilar saluted those who strove to do better -- including Walt Disney, who conceived of the idea for Disneyland while sitting on a park bench in Griffith Park, watching his daughters ride a merry-go-round; James Dyson, who invented the bagless vacuum cleaner (and brought a sense of industrial design to the bland household appliance), and Steve Jobs, whose iPhone relegated the rotary dial phones to museum pieces.

"I can think of no bigger inspirations for looking at the world around you and looking for a better way," said Kilar, speaking Wednesday at the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies conference at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

Hulu, said Kilar, strives to bring the same relentless innovation to television. "If we're really on our game people will look back on it and will say, "Wow, I can't believe TV was like that in 2007."

The online television service, which is jointly owned by media giants News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal, as well as Providence Equity Partners, brought in $420 million in revenue last year. The site, which features television shows from the current season, attracted some 37.7 million viewers last month.

Kilar articulated his oft-repeated vision for the future of television, saying it will become more personalized (the way Internet radio service Pandora delivers music tailored to a listener's taste) and social.

"TV is one of the most social mediums.... The things people talk about most are the weather and television," Kilar said. "With digital, we should be able to encourage social to the core. It's going to be a big, big deal."

Kilar also highlighted some of Hulu's attempts to re-imagine advertising, including allowing the viewer to choose which ad they'd like to watch, or to skip commercials they don't find relevant. Such efforts increase the viewer's ability to remember the promotions they've watched, Kilar said. "The recall goes through the roof because they're mentally engaged with the ad."


Conference in L.A. reflects city's rise as ad industry hub

Hulu strikes distribution deal with Freemantle

CW network to offer new TV episodes on Hulu

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Video: Steve Jobs narrates this unaired version of Apple Inc.'s 1997 "Think Different" ad campaign.

Hulu strikes distribution deal with Fremantle

Morgan Spurlock

In deal that validates the quality of some original programming for the Web, Internet video service Hulu reached an international distribution agreement with FremantleMedia Enterprises.

Fremantle -- whose television production unit is best known for "American Idol,"  "America's Got Talent" and "The X Factor" -- signed a first-look deal for rights to distribute Hulu's original shows to global markets.

The first program Fremantle will attempt to sell is documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's acclaimed series, "A Day in the Life." The second season premieres Monday on Hulu and its subscription service, Hulu Plus.

"For us, this isn't about one particular project, it's about getting into business with Hulu around their new content initiative," said Jeff Tahler, Fremantle's senior vice president of acquisitions and development.  "Looking at what they've done ... (and) their original programming efforts, it's similar to any other network or production company."

Hulu stands to benefit from Fremantle's broad reach and access to traditional distributors for television programming.  For the moment, the online service -- which is jointly owned by media giants News Corp. Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal -- is only available in the United States and Japan.

"That'll expand over time," said Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content. "No matter how aggressive we are, there will be plenty of opportunities to get this content out that we'd be crazy not to look at."

Broader distribution also would provide additional revenue to help underwrite the cost of creating new shows. Hulu and competing subscription services like Netflix Inc. have been launching original programs as a way to differentiate their services.

Netflix's first scripted series, "Lilyhammer," premiered last month.

"The quality [of the originals] has got to be really high because it's sitting next to the best shows on TV last night," Forssell said. "It's a challenge. We're going to be very selective."

Hulu also has secured the rights to exclusively distribute more than 30 documentary films, including Amir Bar-Lev's "Re:Generation Music Project" and Spurlock's upcoming "Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope," a behind-the-scenes look at the thousands of fans who gather each year in San Diego to attend the world's largest comic book convention.

"Documentaries have always done well on our service," Forssell said. "It's a passionate audience. Many of them tend to be tech-forward leaning."


No-hit TV show gets a lifeline on the Web

Hulu launches Latino service with Spanish-language programming

CW Network to offer new TV episodes on Hulu

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Director Morgan Spurlock in "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Credit:  Daniel Marracino / Sony Pictures Classics.

Magic Johnson's cable channel deal approved by Maxine Waters

Maxine Waters

The sale of Comcast cable channels to Magic Johnson and Sean Combs have met with the approval of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

Waters was one of the chief critics in 2010 of the then-pending merger between communications giant Comcast and NBCUniversal, because she felt the companies were not committed to hiring and promoting minorities. But she praised Comcast’s announcement this week that they are establishing four new independent channels targeting minorities.

“I am pleased that Comcast-NBCUniversal has taken steps to honor its commitment to media diversity in programming and ownership,” Waters said in a statement released Wednesday.

The new channels include one owned by former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson, one owned by rapper and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs and a third owned by “Spy Kids” director Robert Rodriguez.

Waters said that Comcast-NBCUniversal “appears to be making progress in efforts to fulfill its public interest commitments.” She also noted new MSNBC shows hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris Perry, Tamron Hall and Martin Bashir.

Said Waters, “It is clear that Comcast has begun to act on the concerns that I, and the community of minority media professionals, raised during the course of the merger review.” She added, “While these initial steps are commendable, I urge the company to continue to cultivate diversity among its executive leadership, showrunners and other studio heads with ‘greenlighting’ authority … Comcast-NBCUniversal would be a trailblazer within an industry that continues to struggle with diversity and inclusion.”

Waters had been particularly tough in her grilling of NBCUniversal and Comcast officers when they were called before Congress in 2010 to defend the merger.


Magic Johnson to launch TV network via Comcast

Comcast-NBC deal gets the OK from FCC, Justice Department

Congresswoman Maxine Waters blasts FCC conditions on Comcast-NBC deal

-- Greg Braxton

Photo: Rep Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Credit: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

Robert Rodriguez joins Magic Johnson, Sean Combs in Comcast TV group


To fulfill its commitment to increase diversity in the cable landscape, Comcast Corp. is launching four independent channels targeting minorities in the next two years, including one owned by former Lakers star Magic Johnson and another owned by former rapper and entrepreneur Sean "Diddy" Combs.

The Philadelphia-based cable giant said Tuesday it also would launch two English-language channels owned by Latinos. One will be owned by film director Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids," "El Mariachi") and the other by Spanish-language television veteran Constantino “Said” Schwarz.

El Rey channel will be a joint venture between Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures executives John Fogelman, a former top William Morris Endeavor talent agent, and Cristina Patwa. The channel, which is slated to launch in early 2014, is expected to feature Latino celebrities and producers. 

"This is the right time to create something new that has cultural significance and can reach the U.S. Latino audience that is really booming," Rodriguez said in an interview. 

The group envisions the channel as "an action-packed, general entertainment network in English for Latino and general audiences" with a mix of reality, scripted and animated series, movies, music, comedy and sports.

Young, U.S. born Latinos "are an under-served market, and Comcast really responded to our pitch," Rodriguez said. "They want to make this work."

Fogelman said his team started pitching Rodriguez on the project about a year ago when Comcast first announced that it would back start-up channels. "We knew if we could get Robert on board we would finally have that authentic voice. There is a groovy factor to him, you can see it in his films and the talent whom he gets to work with him."

Comcast announced three other channels.

Aspire, the Magic Johnson channel, is expected to launch this summer. The Atlanta-based network will be managed by the NBA Hall of Famer in partnership with GMC TV. Johnson said in an interview that he wants Aspire to be filled with entertaining and positive programming for African Americans families. Aspire's lineup will include movies, documentaries, short films, music, comedy, visual and performing arts, and faith and inspirational programs.

Combs' channel, which is expected to launch in 2013, will be called Revolt. Combs said in a statement the channel would be built "from the ground up in this new era of social media" and feature music videos, live performances, music news and interviews. It is expected to incorporate social media interaction for music artists and fans. Former MTV executive Andy Schuon is partnering with Combs on the venture.

The fourth channel -- BabyFirst Americas -- is expected to launch in April.  Proposed by TV veteran Schwarz, the channel is expected to emphasize the importance of early child development, including verbal, math and motor skills. It will be geared for infants and very young children and their parents.

Comcast promised the federal government that it would help launch 10 independent cable channels as part of its effort to win approval of its acquisition last year of NBCUniversal. Regulators were worried that the consolidation of two enormous media companies would make it even more difficult for small independent channels to compete.   

Comcast said it made its selections after sifting through more than 100 proposals.

Of the 10 networks, four will be majority African American owned, two will be majority American Latino owned, two will be operated by American Latino programmers, and two will provide additional independent programming. Comcast said it would carry the channels on its cable systems as part of its digital basic tier of service. 


Magic Johnson to launch TV network via Comcast

Comcast-NBC deal gets the OK from FCC, Justice Department

Congresswoman Maxine Waters blasts FCC conditions on Comcast-NBC deal

-- Meg James

Photo: Director Robert Rodriguez arrives at the premiere of his movie "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" in Los Angeles in July 2011. Credit:  Gus Ruelas / Reuters

Magic Johnson to head Comcast cable channel Aspire

MagicMagic Johnson, the former Laker and basketball Hall of Famer, has long been on an aspirational journey. This summer he plans to bring his upbeat message to new audiences with the launch of a 24-hour cable television channel named Aspire, via Comcast Corp.

Comcast plans to announce Tuesday that it will make available Johnson's 24-hour network in late June in about 11 million of its subscribers' homes. The initiative begins to fulfill a promise the cable operator made last year when it was seeking the federal government's approval of its more than $14 billion merger with NBCUniversal. 

The Philadelphia-based cable giant agreed to launch 10 new channels by 2018, including eight owned by African Americans and Latinos, to diversify its channel line-up.

"I told Comcast that I wanted to be sure I got the first one," Johnson said with a laugh during an interview with the Times.  

Johnson, who left professional sports 20 years ago and has since built a business empire, said the channel would focus on positive, uplifting images of African Americans. The basic cable outlet, which will be based in Atlanta, will join other channels targeting black viewers, like BET and TV One, and will offer opportunities for blacks who have struggled to find work in mainstream Hollywood.

“This is big for myself, for the African American community and the African American creative community," Johnson said. "I wanted a vehicle to show positive images and to have stories written, produced and directed by African Americans for our community. Aspire—that’s how I’ve been leading my life.”

Read the full story in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times.


Congresswoman Maxine Waters blasts FCC conditions on Comcast-NBC deal

Comcast-NBC deal gets the okay from FCC, Justice Department

NBCUniversal diversity executive Paula Madison to step down

Comcast hires the FCC's Meredith Attwell Baker for its NBCUniversal unit

-- Greg Braxton and Meg James

Photo: Earvin "Magic" Johnson speaks during the press conference held by the Magic Johnson Foundation at the Staples Center. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S. Presswire

NBC's 'The Voice' is strong but 'Smash' not living up to hype

NBC's 'Smash' the musical

NBC has found a voice -- but hasn't yet nailed its dance steps.

The broadcast network used its Super Bowl platform to successfully launch "The Voice," a remake of a Dutch singing competition starring Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.

"The Voice" kicked off its second season immediately after the Feb. 5th game before moving to its regular Monday night time slot. This week, the show continued to belt out high notes attracting more than 16 million viewers -- approaching the audience of Fox's aspirational juggernaut "American Idol." 

"The Voice" was so strong that it muffled the ratings of CBS' Monday comedy block, which includes "Two and a Half Men." This month represented the first time in more than four years that NBC beat CBS in key ratings on a Monday night.

But NBC's highly anticipated drama "Smash" is proving less spectacular.

At the end of Comcast Corp.'s earnings call Wednesday, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke conceded to his colleagues that while "The Voice" should remain strong, "Smash is more problematic." Burke apparently didn't realize that his microphone was still live.

The expensive, highly promoted program attracted 8 million viewers Monday night, a respectable turnout particularly for a network that has struggled this season to launch new shows. A pet project of NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, the critically acclaimed series has produced some of the best ratings for NBC in the time period in nearly three years.

However, NBC made an enormous investment on "Smash" despite concerns that a show about the making of a Broadway musical, and the cut-throat competition of New York's theater world, might lack broad appeal among most Americans. 

The pilot cost more than $7 million and production of subsequent episodes runs about $4 million. The network has spent at least another $10 million to promote the series, which has an all-star producing team, including Steven Spielberg, Theresa Rebeck as well as Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the team behind "Hairspray" and "Chicago."

Late last week, NBCUniversal marshaled its firepower to bolster "Smash," headlined by Katharine McPhee, Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston and Megan Hilty. 

A number of the company's cable networks, including USA, Bravo and even video game culture channel G4 and the bilingual channel mun2, replayed the pilot of "Smash" in an effort to drum up new viewers. 

The company's so-called cable road block exposed the program to an additional 1 million viewers. But, the ratings for the second episode of "Smash" on NBC Monday night dropped 26% in key audience demographics compared with its Feb. 6 premiere. 

As troubling for NBC and Burke, the show steadily lost viewers throughout its hourlong telecast Monday night.

Comcast Corp. Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis warned Wall Street analysts Wednesday that managing programming costs would be one of the biggest challenges that Comcast faces this year. That is particularly true for Burke, who is charged with deciding how best to allocate the company's considerable programming budget. 


NBC bets on "Smash" to start a turnaround

NBC's Bob Greenblatt adjusts to a bigger stage

Paul Telegdy finds his voice as a television programmer

-- Meg James   

Photo: The cast of NBC's "Smash." Credit:  NBC




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