Comcast Buying Remaining 49% Of NBC From GE

on February 12 2013 8:03 PM

Comcast Corp. announced Tuesday that it would buy General Electric's remaining 49 percent equity stake in their NBCUniversal joint venture for about $16.7 billion, hastening a deal that had not been expected until at least late 2014.

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMSCA), based in Philadelphia, will pay $11.4 billion in cash, and the rest will be funded with debt and the issuance of stock, USA Today reported.

Analysts said Comcast was getting a good deal at that price, Reuters reported, while Comcast's chief executive said the company moved because it was eager to take control sooner than planned.

Comcast shares rose 7.5 percent in after-hours trading.

Comcast bought 51 percent of NBC Universal in 2011 after winning antitrust approval from the Justice Department. The transaction created a $30 billion business that includes broadcast, cable networks, movie studios and theme parks.

"Our decision to acquire GE's ownership is driven by our sense of optimism for the future prospects of NBCUniversal,"  Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.

"Pretty much in our opinion given that media stocks have gone up quite a bit, it's a very attractive price, a fair price because we had a formula buyout," Roberts said in an interview with Reuters. "We feel many good things coming today and in the future and we wanted to get 100 percent of that for our shareholders."

In addition to the main deal, NBCUniversal will also buy from GE Capital the properties it uses at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City and CNBC's headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., for about $1.4 billion.

Comcast said it would fund the deal with $11.4 billion of cash on hand, $4 billion in senior unsecured notes to be issued to GE (NYSE:GE), $2 billion in credit facility borrowings and the issuance of $725 million in subsidiary preferred stock to GE.

Separately, Comcast said it would increase its dividend by 20 percent and that it would buy back $2 billion in stock this year. GE also said it would accelerate its own share buy-back program to $10 billion this year.

Comcast's eventual takeover of NBCUniversal had been expected since 2009, when it agreed to buy a 51 percent stake of it from GE. At the time, NBCUniversal was valued at about $30 billion. The deal was finalized in 2011.

The deal enabled Comcast and GE to house their TV networks and other properties under one corporate umbrella, including NBC, USA, Bravo, Syfy, E, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, the Universal Pictures movie studio and Universal theme parks.

"It's an attractive price -- Comcast is getting a good deal," Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan told Reuters.

Comcast turned its attention to NBC after a failed $54 billion hostile takeover attempt of Disney in 2004 that ultimately led to the resignation of that company's CEO, Michael Eisner, after more than 20 years on the job.

The hostile offer exposed Comcast's desire to merge content with distribution at a time when most of its industry peers, such as Viacom-CBS and AOL-Time Warner, were doing the opposite.

While Comcast held the title of the nation's leading cable operator by a wide margin, its status as a content player was always second tier, with middling networks like E!, G4 and Golf forming the basis of its channel portfolio.

The NBC deal gave the Philadelphia-based cable operator the cable industry's top-rated entertainment network, USA; its leading business network, CNBC; upstart news network MSNBC; and Bravo, among others.

For GE, the sale culminates a long-planned exit from the entertainment business.

Since reaching the deal to sell its majority stake in NBC Universal, GE executives have made clear that they eventually planned to exit the entertainment business entirely.

The initial sale contract gave GE the option to sell back as much as all of its remaining stake in NBC Universal by mid-2014.

The company's accelerated share buyback could be an answer to shareholders, who have wondered what GE would do with a cash windfall that could total tens of billions of dollars over several years, as the company sold its remaining NBC stake and recouped more profits earned by GE Capital.

Vivendi and GE created NBCUniversal in 2004 after the two companies combined their entertainment units, a deal that diluted GE's exposure to the TV business but continued its long-held association with the TV network. To make the 2011 deal work, GE bought the 20 percent stake in NBCUniversal held by French media conglomerate Vivendi.

The Radio Corp. of America, which was then owned by GE, created NBC in 1926. General Electric sold RCA in 1930 -- but bought it back, including NBC, in 1986.

More News from IBT MEDIA