Comcast looks to spark struggling cable channels; in talks with Vice, BuzzFeed, others

NBCUniversal may be coming off its strongest quarter since joining the Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) empire in 2011, but the programming conglomerate is anxious to partner with newer digital media platforms so it can tap into younger audiences.

According to the Wall Street Journal, NBCU is currently in talks with companies including Vice Media, BuzzFeed and Business Insider about possible partnerships. The Comcast unit is also considering the possible increase of its 14 percent stake in VOX Media.

For example, with its edgy, documentary-style story-telling, Vice has already carved out an influential media presence beyond digital platforms, producing, among other linear content, an Emmy-winning  series for HBO. WSJ sources say Vice isn't interested in being purchased outright, but it may be enticed by strategic investment and turning one of NBCU's channels into a Vice-branded platform.

On Thursday, Comcast reported a 20.2 percent year-over-year revenue increase for NBCU in the second quarter. NBC finished atop the Big Four broadcast networks in 18-49 audience share for a second straight TV season. The Universal Pictures division broke a record this year, reaching $5 billion in global box office receipts faster than any movie studio ever has. And theme park revenue increased 25.7 percent.

Lost in the earnings hoopla over CEO Steve Burke's NBCU unit, however, was the steady audience declines being experienced by the conglomerate and virtually every other cable programmer.

In fact, amid an advertising market that has also softened, revenue for NBCU's cable networks declined 1 percent to $2.45 billion in Q2. While slight, the drop is significant when you consider how profitable media networks had previously been for conglomerates like NBCU, and how their growth has recently decelerated.

In the second quarter of 2013, for example, the conglomerate's cable networks saw their revenue grow by a healthy 7.7 percent. That growth declined to 2.6 percent in Q2 of last year. Now NBCU's cable networks are in recession.

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)

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