Comcast is reportedly poised to announce a deal to acquire a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric and Vivendi. Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts declined to comment in a quarterly conference call with analysts. Comcast meanwhile reported growth, despite the economic climate, and claims that online video is more friend than foe.
The largest cable television company in the United States is reportedly close to a deal to acquire a majority stake in the General Electric controlled NBC Universal business.
“While we can’t comment on rumours, I would like to reinforce that we only look at opportunities in our core businesses that potentially can accelerate growth, make those businesses more profitable and differentiated and give them the benefits of scale,” the Comcast chief executive told analysts. “I’d like to emphasize that we will continue to have a very disciplined approach as we evaluate any of these opportunities with our primary focus to create meaningful value for our shareholders.”
The proposition of a combination of Comcast and NBC Universal is apparently based on the theoretical synergies of combining distribution and programming. As evidenced by the AOL Time Warner merger at the height of the technology boom in the year 2000, the benefits do not necessarily emerge. It has been seen as one of the worst mergers in corporate history.
Comcast reported revenues of $8.8 billion in the last quarter, earning a net income of $994 million, compared to $771 million in the same period the previous year.
The number of Comcast digital video customers rose 7.4% to just over 18 million, while the total number of video subscribers, including basic cable, fell 2.7% to 23.8 million. Digital voice customers rose 20% to 7.3 million and broadband internet rose 6.4% to 15.7 million, demonstrating resilience to recession and resistance to the rollouts of competing services from other telecommunications companies.
NBC Universal is one of the leading media and entertainment companies, formed in May 2004 by the merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment. It is currently 80% owned by General Electric and 20% by Vivendi. It is reported that Comcast could contribute cash and its cable networks to control 51% of NBC Universal, buying out Vivendi.
NBC Universal is a 30% shareholder in Hulu, the online video service. Comcast is meanwhile pressing ahead with its own TV Everywhere plans in response to over the top video services.
“Video over the internet is more friend than foe,” according to Brian Roberts of Comcast. He said it is always difficult to predict how people use the Internet, but that it was the job of Comcast to “give the customer the best experience.”
It will be the job of regulators like the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that Comcast makes available its programming on equal terms to people irrespective of their access provider.
Comcast has meanwhile reported that it is now making more movies available through video on demand on the date of their release on DVD. Ten titles from a number of major studios will be available this month on the same day and date that they appear in stores.
“Everything about the day-and-date model is working,” said Derek Harrar, general manager of video and entertainment services for Comcast. “The studios are coming to us more and more with great films, and our customers are enjoying the opportunity to watch newly released films as quickly as possible.”