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GE, Comcast Ink NBC Deal; CEOs Say Sharpens Focus

The $30 billion deal that switches control of NBC Universal from General Electric to Comcast brings value to allow everyone involved to focus more sharply on their core businesses, leaders of the two companies said Thursday.

NBC Rainbow Room 30 rokefeller Plaza
Photo: Ragesoss
NBC Rainbow Room 30 rokefeller Plaza

"Either you're moving forward or you're moving backwards," GE CEO Jeff Immelt said in an interview on CNBC. "Being able to partner in cable and digital makes NBC Universal more valuable for investors, for Comcast investors and for the NBCU team."

General Electric and Comcast earlierannounced the agreement that stands as one of the biggest deals in media history.

Comcast , the largest cable TV operator in the US, will end up controlling 51 percent of the newly-formed company while GE will own 49 percent.

The transaction could take more than a year to close as the companies await approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts told CNBC he believes the deal will be approved, as do most analysts.

"We think this is an approvable transaction," Roberts said during a joint interview with Immelt (see video below). "We think this is pro-consumer and brings real benefit at a time when distribution is going from physical to electronic in the digital age. This vertical integration tends not to present some of those challengs that a horizontal integration might."

Roberts added that he sees few major changes occurring at least for employees as Comcast realizes the value particularly of the cable channels, such as Bravo, Syfy and E!, in NBC's domain.

"This is a different time, a different deal, and we'll have to execute to show that. But in our assumptions we're not assuming any great layoffs or changes as a result of that," he said. "We think cable programming and the content business in general, structured properly, is a good business."

"This deal is highly structured, gives us real incentives to grow the business together," he added. "I think the two of us coming together are better than alone and the fact that we're a cable company is certainly not going to hurt this company. I think we're going to focus and we're pretty excited."

GE, parent of CNBC, currently owns 80 percent of NBCU, which the two companies have valued at about $30 billion. Before a final deal could be struck, Vivendi of France had to agree to sell its 20 percent stake in NBC Universal, which GE ultimately agreed to buy for $5.8 billion.

The mega deal includes the spinoff of NBC Universal and $9.1 billion in debt. It also includes the merger of Comcast's content assets valued at $7.25 billion and a $6.5 billion cash contribution.

"For Comcast, this transaction is strategically compelling and will generate attractive financial returns and build shareholder value," Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts said in a press statement.

"It is also expected to be immediately accretive and will also allow us to maintain our strong commitment to returning capital to shareholders- all while increasing the scale, capabilities and value of our cable distribution, content and digital assets," Roberts added.

At the same time, Comcast announced it increased the company's planned annual dividend by 40 percent to $0.378 per share.

Disney Rival

When completed, the deal would make Comcast one of the nation's largest entertainment companies rivalling the heft of its former takeover target, Walt Disney.

The transaction will generate about $8 billion in cash at closing, with an expected small after-tax gain, GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said in the statement.

"I believe that the new NBCU will deliver value for both Comcast and GE in the future. We will give consumers and advertisers more choice and our cable and digital assets will be second to none," Immelt said.

Comcast wants NBC Universal largely for its lucrative cable channels, such as Bravo and CNBC. NBC Universal also spans the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, the Universal Pictures movie studio and Universal theme parks.

Comcast is eager to diversify its holdings amid an encroaching threat from online video and more aggressive competition from satellite and phone companies that offer subscription TV services.

Jeff Zucker, current president and CEO of NBCU, will be CEO of the new joint venture.

The deal bodes well for the two companies, Lawrence Haverty, Associate Portfolio Manager at Gabelli Global Multimedia Trust, told CNBC. Haverty owns shares in both companies.

The cable business is going to rebound with advertising revenues in general but "the future for the broadcast networks is very problematic," he said.

"The only reason to hold off on this is the regulatory delay issue which is frankly, in my opinion, just a mess… the time that it's going to take," Haverty added.

The two companies will look at all platforms to see where they can find value, Anthony Fry, senior managing director at Evercore Partners, told CNBC's "Strictly Money."

"They will want to keep whatever they can actually find a way of creating monetary value across multiple platforms… The future is about what is the content that you own that you can find ways of distributing, of which customers will pay," Fry said.

Although the deal holds the promise that movies could reach cable TV more quickly after showing in theatres, and that TV shows could appear faster on cell phones, it has already raised concerns that Comcast would wield too much power over entertainment.

Exit provisions are critical in joint ventures because they deal with when and how a partner can get out. In the case of GE, many of its shareholders have urged the conglomerate to offload NBC Universal, whose broadcast and cable networks, movie studio and theme parks are considered misfits among GE's mostly industrial operations.

Vivendi will continue to receive quarterly dividends from NBC Universal until the deal is completed and if it does not complete, it would launch an accelerated IPO for the stake, the company said.

—AP and Reuters contributed to this report

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