Immelt Predicts: NBCU Earns Flat Profits In '09

Jeff Immelt of General ElectricExpect NBC Universal's profits to be flat to down next year, the CEO of parent General Electric said Tuesday. Jeff Immelt suggested that downward pressure on ad rates at the broadcast operations but strength in cable could keep 2009 profits in the $3 billion range, where they will come in this year.

"We've got a fighting chance to be flat next year," Immelt said at an investor event.

The chief executive offered an endorsement of NBCU's move to book a weeknight Jay Leno variety show on NBC at 10 p.m. He argues that it will strengthen the 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekday block, as NBC can shift its best-performing programming there.

"We think this is a good margin-enhancer in the prime-time schedule," he said.

Still, the broadcast network and its group of owned stations--with advertising as a single-revenue stream--will continue to struggle, Immelt said. "We think the network business and the station business will be particularly tough in 2009."

Immelt added, however, that as recently as 2005, NBCU would be in much worse shape in a recession, with the broadcast businesses accounting for a much larger percentage of its operations. Now, its cable fleet dominates the portfolio and brings in affiliate fees, arguably a recession-resistant revenue stream.

Also, NBCU has better-performing international businesses, providing geographic diversity.

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