It was a blow when federal regulators forced the company to abandon its deal to buy TWC, which would have made the company the dominant player in pay television and as an Internet service provider. But that setback does not tell its full story.
Comcast had a very successful year driven by its success at the box office, the continued comeback of its broadcast network, and a major effort to change one of its most problematic areas. 2015 should also be remembered as the year when dinosaurs, Minions, Sunday night football, and spinning chairs pushed the company to new heights.
Universal dominates the box office
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens will almost certainly pass Jurassic World as the top-grossing film released in 2015, it will not lead Disney (NYSE:DIS) to the 2015 domestic box office title. Instead, Comcast's Universal brand will almost certainly capture that crown given that it closed the week of Dec. 13 with 23.6%, or about $2.4 billion, of the total United States box office for the year, according to Box Office Mojo.
Disney's Buena Vista, which includes its Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm imprints, sat at 15.9% or $1.6 billion with two weeks to go in December. That leaves Universal about $800 million ahead and while Star Wars will bring it closer, it won't close the gap before the calendar turns to 2016.
Box office crown notwithstanding, 2015 was a good year for Universal not just due to how much money it hauled in, but because of the franchise nature of the films that were hits. Jurassic World revived a long-dormant series while Furious 7, Minions, and Pitch Perfect 2 kept existing franchises moving forward. In addition, the company had 50 Shades of Grey, which should be the kickoff to another long-running series.
These are movies that will not only spawn sequels, but with the exception of Grey, all will be spun off into video games, toys, theme park rides, and more. The movie business has largely become about delivering sure-fire hits and aside from Disney with Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars, Universal may be the studio with the most sure-thing franchises in its arsenal.
The NBC comeback is complete
For years, NBC had been a bit of a laughingstock. The network had seen its Must See TV block become a thing of the past and many of its new shows simply were not connecting with audiences. Even its morning bedrock, The Today Show, had lost its ratings lead, and the forced exile of Jay Leno created doubt around The Tonight Show. In addition, the Brian Williams scandal led to worries about whether the company could hold its nightly news lead.
In a broad sense, NBC had worries across all dayparts, but 2015 proved that those fears were unfounded. Jimmy Fallon is the clear late-night leader, Lester Holt has held onto the No. 1 spot in news, and Today has shown stability and has cut into Good Morning America's lead.
The biggest feat for the company, however, may be that it has used Sunday Night Football, The Voice, The Blacklist, and a seemingly endless series of shows from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf to re-establish prime-time dominance. The company has actually won November sweeps -- a key ratings period that helps to determine ad rates -- for four years running, but this is the year where NBC solidified a return to its 1980s glory days.
Variety laid out just how big a victory the Peacock network had with the critical 18-49 demo in a story about the last week of the sweeps period:
NBC, which won for an eighth time in nine weeks this fall in adults 18-49, prevailed for a fourth straight November sweep, according to preliminary estimates for the ratings period which ends tonight. And its margin of victory over the second-place finisher (21% ahead of Fox) would be the largest for any network in 19 years.
The good news for Comcast is that like its movie franchises, its TV success is driven by assets that will pay off for years to come. The Blacklist is relatively early in its run as are the various Chicago shows from Wolf. The Voice may eventually slow down, but it's not showing any signs of doing so, and Sunday Night Football is likely to be a hit as long as the network retains the rights to it.
Comcast tries to fix customer service
Customer service has been a near-constant source of negative press for Comcast. The company has weathered a number of scandals for how it treats subscribers, but in 2016 it received some positive headlines for its efforts to solve the problem.
In May, the company announced a "multi-year plan to reinvent the customer experience and to create a culture focused on exceeding customers' expectations, at all levels of the company." The plan includes hiring 5,500 new customer service workers and a goal of being on time for all appointments. Comcast will also invest in technology, improve employee training, and attempt to simplify billing.
"This transformation is about shifting our mind-set to be completely focused on the customer. It's about respecting their time, being more proactive, doing what's right, and never being satisfied with good enough," said CEO Neil Smit in the press release. "We're on a mission and everyone is committed to making this happen."
It's a big change, but there was perhaps nothing more important Comcast could have invested in to keep it on the positive side of the news in 2016.
Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He did not care for Jurassic World or Minions. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.