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NBCUniversal’s dismal profit losses are not just about ‘Cats’

NBCUniversal’s dismal profit losses are not just about ‘Cats’
[Photo: courtesy of Universal Pictures]

Comcast’s earnings report is not the cat’s meow for its NBCUniversal unit. The company behind Cats announced some dismal fourth-quarter numbers, with its film unit down 49% from the same period last year.

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The antihero of this story is Cats, the film that cost $95 million to make and opened in the U.S. to a box office take of just $6.5 million. Rather than being a cash cow, it is expected to lose $70 million. Last holiday season, Universal distributed Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch, which cost $75 million to make and earned over $500 million worldwide.

Cats was released late in the quarter, so it’s not entirely to blame for the miss. In fact, the studio unit’s revenue was down 9.2% for the entire year.

Who is pocketing that box-office cash? Disney. The company acquired 20th Century Fox last year and took in a whopping 38% of the domestic box office in 2019, compared with just 10% in 2008, before it owned Lucasfilm and Marvel. By contrast, Universal accounted for just 13.4% of the 2019 market.

Flops are, well, floppier when Disney produces the top five U.S. grossing films of the year (Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, Toy Story 4, Captain Marvel, Frozen 2), leaving moviegoers no reason to take a chance on felines managing their anger.

NBCUniversal’s other units did not perform so hot either: its cable networks were down 1.4% compared to the fourth quarter of last year, and theme parks down 4.5%. The lone bright light was its broadcast television unit, which was up 14%. The company calculates earnings based on adjusted earnings before taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA).

[Comcast earnings release]
Last week, NBCUniversal launched anticipatory damage control, announcing Peacock, a streaming service coming to us in April, which will include—drumroll—live coverage of the Tokyo Olympics! When in doubt, NBCUniversal executives can just say Olympics. Olympics. Olympics.

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