Mixed Bag at NBC Universal

Strong numbers at the GE unit can't conceal a moment of weakness for the NBC network.
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NBC Universal delivered strong results Friday despite some looming realities at stalwart network NBC.

Earnings at NBC Universal rose 27% from a year ago to $979 million on a 35% jump in revenue, to $3.86 billion. Some highlights included strong performances in cable entertainment, led by channels like USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel. NBC said viewership at those channels rose 7% and 11%, respectively, in the key 25-to-54-year-old demographic.

Universal Pictures' releases did well at the box office as well, and NBC's late-night schedule continues to shine on the backs of Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.

But the news was less good elsewhere at the flagship NBC network. While too much emphasis may be placed on the annual TV buying season known as the upfront, it is nonetheless a bellwether for how the networks are likely to fare next TV season.

And when the dust settled in June, NBC was off its lofty perch by roughly $900 million in advertiser commitments. This has prompted serious bicoastal concern about the development slate and programming lineup in the face of strengthened competition at


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ABC, which added significantly to its kitty this spring, and a strong lineup at rival CBS, a unit of


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While the company's TV station group continues to prosper, another question mark is Spanish language network Telemundo, whose ratings have struggled. As recently as last year Telemundo was taking market share away from powerhouse



, but has since given back gains. An agreement with


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TV network to produce short programming segments should help the bottom line there.

Still, NBC can lean on the strength of the Olympics this winter in Torino, Italy, to help the network along. Dick Ebersol and Randy Falco also brought the NFL back to NBC for the 2006 season in a smart deal that, with no clear prime-time winner in sight on much watched Sunday night, will solve part of the primetime dilemma -- albeit not until next year.