GE Touts NBCU Turnaround, Numbers Still Don't Reflect It

General Electric has been singing the same song for a year: NBC's reversal of fortune. "NBC Universal is rebounding," said CEO Jeff Immelt in a familiar refrain. "The turnaround continues," echoed CFO Keith Sherin on a conference call Friday with investors to discuss recent performance. But where's the proof?

In the same call, executives said revenues in the current first quarter of 2007 would be essentially flat. Actually, they projected a 20% decline--largely due to comparisons versus a year ago, which included the Winter Olympics. Profits were projected between flat and up 5%.

But the Winter Olympics hardly performed strongly for NBCU, which said it lost $70 million on the games.

The loss may have contributed to a 6% drop in profits for NBCU last year, although revenue increased 10% to $16.2 billion.

The NBCU division, despite notable profit growth in the entertainment cable sector with networks such as USA and Bravo, also lumbered along in the just-completed fourth quarter. For the last three months of 2006, the NBCU unit posted only a 1% revenue increase to $4.2 billion, although profits were up 5% to $841 million.



The slow growth came despite NBC adding "Sunday Night Football"--which had strong ratings, but also carries a huge rights fee that can drag down profits.

But executives continued to be bullish going forward. "We love 'Heroes,'" Sherin said, referring to NBC's desperately needed prime-time hit, which has fueled optimism that the network can regain its footing. "Heroes" is a top-five hit in the key adult 18-to-49 demo.

And NBC is up approximately 16% in that key demo this season--although with football over, its margin could drop.

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