* Possible buyout of Orlando park on the cards for June
* No decision on Orlando theme park made yet
* NBC programming turnaround will take time and investment
* Comcast not engaged in any cable acquisition talks - CEO
By Yinka Adegoke
NEW YORK, May 4 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) said on Wednesday it will make a decision on whether to buy out Blackstone Group LP’s (BX.N) 50 percent stake in their Universal Orlando theme park joint venture in the next month.
The No.1 U.S. cable company became an owner of its stake after it closed the deal to take control of NBC Universal in January. Blackstone, which bought into the theme park in 2000, has set in motion a right of first refusal clause that gives NBC Universal until June 12 to make a decision. [ID:nN16301009]
“We haven’t made any decisions at all,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis on a conference call with analysts. “We will make a decision in the next month or so.”
If Comcast turns down the deal, Blackstone can then approach third parties.
The theme parks were one of the positive highlights of NBC Universal’s first quarterly results consolidated under Comcast.
NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke said the success of the Harry Potter and King Kong attractions launched last year had helped drive operating cash flow for the overall business.
NBC Universal pro forma revenue was up 5 percent to $4.35 billion, excluding the impact of last year’s Winter Olympics event, according to results issued on Tuesday.
Advertising revenue for the first three months of the year grew 14 percent at NBCU’s cable networks to $769 million while NBC Entertainment saw its advertising revenue rise by 8 percent to $910 million.
Both Burke and Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts observed that the laggard NBC broadcast business will take time and smart investment to turn around.
“The real key is making better shows,” said Burke. “We’re making about the same amount of pilots as last year, 21, which is up from two or three years ago. And it’s really a matter of doing better.”
Burke said the company will increase its program spending by around $200 million on new shows on NBC and plans to spend another $100 million on programming on cable.
Shares of Comcast were down 2.2 percent to $26.02 in late morning trading on Nasdaq. Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan said investors were likely concerned with the mixed results at NBC Universal rather than the rest of the business.
“There’s bound to be a little uncertainty around the programming spending at both the broadcast and cable businesses but especially broadcast,” said Eagan.
Comcast’s core business in cable communications lost fewer video subscribers than analysts had expected with only 39,000 lost compared with an average of nearly 200,000 customers lost each quarter last year. [ID:nN03113657]
Neil Smit, the executive who runs Comcast’s cable business, said the company had reduced customer losses by focusing more on retaining existing customers as well as acquiring new ones. It also put more effort into customer service.
Roberts said Comcast is currently not engaged in any acquisition activity to buy more cable systems currently on the market. Comcast is the largest U.S. pay-TV company with more 22.8 million subscribers. (Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)