Comcast Is Making Millions Off Minions

Universal Pictures was struggling when Comcast purchased the studio. Almost six years later, the studio is shattering box office records.

Universal Pictures was not doing well when Comcast bought NBC.

“Not only are all studios grappling with declining DVD sales and shifting consumer habits in entertainment,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2009, “but Universal is also struggling to correct course from a prolonged box-office slump, runaway production costs and turmoil in the executive suites.”

How things have changed. In 2013, a week after Comcast reshuffled executives at the movie studio, Universal passed $2 billion in international box office receipts for the first time. We are halfway through 2015, and Universal has grossed more than $3.8 billion this year. The studio is destroying box office records.

This year’s box office totals are buoyed by the latest installment in the Fast & Furious series, Furious 7, which has grossed more than $350 million domestically. Jurassic World, which opened with a record $208.8 million its opening week, has made more than $569 million in U.S. theaters. Worldwide, those totals swell: World has made more than $1.4 billion around the globe. Fifty Shades of Grey (the highest-grossing R-rated film ever) and Pitch Perfect 2 have also been hits this year.

Today, another blockbuster from Comcast’s Universal opens: Minions, a spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise. The first two films in the series grossed a total of $1.6 billion worldwide. Universal says it is expecting an $85 million opening weekend for Minions, but outside analysts predict an opening of more than $100 million. The film has already grossed more than $141 million worldwide. The movie is Fandango’s No. 1 top pre-ordered ticket among animated films.

But Minions means a lot to Comcast, even though Universal makes up a small percentage of its earnings each year. While Furious 7 and Jurassic World were made by outside production companies and distributed by Universal, Minions was made by Illumination Entertainment — a subsidiary of NBCUniversal. Comcast will keep a higher percentage of the gross from Minions than its other big blockbusters this year.

What’s odd about the Minions is how much they seem to have taken over pop-culture. Part of this is due to the film’s marketing stunts: They’re on Amazon boxes, at McDonald’s restaurants, several stunts like minion-themed Tic Tacs and a Los Angeles Times minion masthead and, of course, a minions visit to the town of Minions, England.

Comcast is even cross-promoting the brand. The minions are all over Comcast’s on demand service currently, and not just because the cable giant is selling both films in a $15 bundle. The minions seem to be promoting pretty much everything available on demand. (Comcast even makes extra money off those Fandango pre-sales, as it owns the ticketing website.) On a recent road trip, there was minion merchandise for sale at three different rest stops.

But it’s not just due to Comcast’s promotional efforts. As Brian Feldman recently wrote at The Awl, minions have taken over the Internet. “Minions are basically emoji,” he writes. “They’re yellow, they run the emotional spectrum, they function as a malleable shorthand for almost indescribable feelings.” And he notes they have been paired with literally any saying.

Plug minions meme into Google Image Search and you get a cornucopia of results: Pseudo-inspirational sayings your aunt might share on Facebook, lighthearted digs at friends, reactions to nearly any event possible, even minions saying curse words. There’s even an image where the minions discuss being high.

All these memes mean more attention for the Minions movie and, as such, more and more money for Comcast. People will complain about their Comcast service in one tweet and celebrate the minions in the next. Yet every time you share a minions meme, you’re helping Comcast’s bottom line in some small way.

Meanwhile, Comcast is celebrating all the way to the bank (perhaps with a minion-led conga line). The company lost $336 million on the failed merger with Time Warner. Two of Universal’s films have already made more than that at the box office domestically this year.

Universal is in a much better position than it was when Comcast bought it almost six years ago. And it’s looks likely to stay that way: A sequel to Jurassic World is in the early stages. Another Fast & Furious film is on its way. And Despicable Me 3 (featuring the minions) is scheduled for a summer 2017 release. Sure, the reviews are mediocre. It won’t matter. Minions are a money-generating machine for Comcast. This won’t end anytime soon.

Eh, you might as well accept it. Those stupid things are kind of cute.