Married With Network: GE Wants NBCU In Its Future

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General Electric executives, during the third-quarter earnings call, said the company wants to have a long-term future with NBC Universal -- in some form.

"NBC Universal has been a solid performer," said Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric. "Vivendi has been a great partner. They have a window every year to review their options. We wanted to be ready for any scenario -- one might be an IPO or a strategic partnership, like the one we have had with Vivendi."

"I don't have a specific pronouncement, or a specific need for cash," he added. "In many ways, we plan to operate NBC over the long term or [with a] partner that accelerates the growth of the franchise."

NBC's profitability was up in the third quarter, with revenues down because of unfavorable comparisons with the Summer Olympics revenues in 2008.

General Electric executives say NBC Television Network third-quarter scatter business is up double-digit CPMs (cost-per-thousand viewers increases) in prime time, with pricing up 20% or more for its cable networks.

NBC improved 13% in profitability, reaching $732 million for the period, while revenues sank 20% to $4.1 billion. About $1 billion in sales was recorded by NBC for last year's Beijing Olympics for 3Q 2008. Taking out the Olympics, executives say revenues were flat, quarter-to-quarter.

As for programming, GE executives say "The Jay Leno Show" is "exceeding our estimates," with prime-time ratings meeting their estimates.

Cable continues to perform very well, they noted, with revenues up 8% to $1.2 billion and profits 11% higher to $533 million. USA Network has maintained its status as the No. 1 cable network; SyFy is up 30% in ratings; CNBC, up 9%; and Bravo, 4%.

NBC Universal benefited in the quarter from a one-time gain of $550 million from the restructuring of its stake in A&E Television Networks, which includes the Lifetime cable channels. Adjusting for the A&E purchase would put NBC Universal's profitability down 9% for the period.

NBC Universal's film business suffered, resulting in the removal of its top two executives. Revenue for the film business was at $1 billion, down 20%. Its only success during the period was "Inglorious Basterds."

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