Zucker: Weather Channel Boosts NBC Cable Strength

NBC's acquisition of The Weather Channel will help the company expand its burgeoning and critical cable news presence, said NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker.

NBC Universal, in conjunction with private equity firms Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, will buy the Weather Channel from Landmark Communications in a deal expected to hit about $3.5 billion. The channel will be run as a separate entity based in Atlanta with management provided by NBC Universal.

"The Weather Channel is a fantastic competitor," Zucker said in an interview on CNBC. "They've been great in their space, they've owned their space, they've been around for a long time and we're just thrilled that they're part of our family."

Zucker said the company's cable holdings, including CNBC and MSNBC, have become a major part of the news division within NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric.

NBC also has been strengthened by its morning programming, particularly the "Today" show, which has its largest ratings lead in more than four years against its network competitors.

"The fact is each of these networks, including CNBC ... are all performing at the top of their games," Zucker said. "The real strength of the company has become the cable portfolio and that's going to continue in the years ahead."

The Weather Channel is the third-most distributed cable network, available in 97 percent of cable homes. The weather.com Web site has more than 40 million unique users per month, while weather forecaster Weather Services International has more than 5,000 clients worldwide.

The transaction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

GE reports its quarterly earnings on Friday. The report will be watched closely after the company, whose guidance is usually among the most accurate of Dow components, missed expectations in the previous quarter. Some have speculated that GE would begin considering cutting NBC loose.

But Zucker said the division is performing well, with strength in advertising and box office sales leading the way. On the other side, DVD sales and amusement park attendance have been down.

And he said ratings successes of "Today" as well as CNBC, "Meet the Press" and other news staples are encouraging to advertisers.

"You think about adding The Weather Channel to that, you really see the news and information strength of this company," Zucker said. "That's what I'm really proud of."