'Enhance Value': Comcast/NBC Merger Ready To Pop

Steve Burke

NBC Universal's employees are on target to fall under Comcast's aegis by Jan. 1, according to Comcast's top executive. CEO Brian Roberts said Wednesday the transaction with NBCU parent General Electric is "on track" to receive regulatory clearance by year-end, although he did hedge with a "we hope."

The proposed joint venture has received endorsements by multiple entities in FCC filings, from agency Naked Communications to the National Hockey League. Naked, of course, has a financial interest in the deal being cleared, since it serves as a media agency for NBCU.

While it does not cite that in its filing, the NHL does. The league has contracts with NBCU and Comcast, where games are on NBC and cable network Versus, and greater collaboration between the two could benefit it.

Some interests have filed protests, but Comcast had at least 22 lobbying shops working on the matter in the second quarter, and likely has its pulse on which way the FCC and Department of Justice will go with their reviews.

A sign that Comcast has little compunction about governmental clearance came as Comcast COO Steve Burke said weekly meetings are occurring between the cable operator and NBCU, so a new company can "hit the ground running" post-approval.

"The NBC executives have looked at our cable business and we keep identifying more and more opportunities to do things together that can enhance value," Burke said on a Comcast earnings call, where he joined Roberts.

Burke estimated that when Comcast takes a 51% interest in NBCU, that would add about $10 billion a year in advertising revenues to Comcast. Based on estimates from 2009, that figure would have taken ad dollars from an estimated 7% of Comcast annual revenues to about 23%.

In the recently completed April-June period, Comcast reported a 6% increase in revenue to $9.5 billion. Operating cash flow was hampered by $22 million in expenses related to the NBCU deal.

Profit was down to $884 million from $967 million in the period a year ago.

Comcast said marketing expenses were up 12% as it rolled out its new Xfinity brand, which should be in 80% of the markets it serves by the end of the year.

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