Comcast Corp, the largest U.S. cable service provider, denied a Web report on Wednesday that it had struck a deal to buy media conglomerate NBC Universal for $35 billion.
While we do not normally comment on M&A rumors, the report that Comcast has a deal to purchase NBC Universal is inaccurate, Comcast said in a statement.
But Comcast stopped short of quashing speculation it was interested in NBC Universal, which is owned 80 percent by General Electric Co and 20 percent by French media group Vivendi SA.
Asked if Comcast was looking at NBC Universal, a company official declined comment. A spokesman for Vivendi had no comment on the report but said the group had an annual window from mid-November to early-December to exercise a put option on its NBC Universal stake.
The situation unleashes a media frenzy each autumn over what Vivendi will do with its stake. It recently made a $2.9 billion offer for Brazil's GVT Holdings.
The Wrap.com reported late on Wednesday Comcast was in talks to buy NBC Universal from GE and said bankers for both sides met in New York on Tuesday to hammer out deal points.
The report said two individuals informed about the meeting said a deal had been completed at a purchase price of $35 billion.
Bloomberg, citing three people with knowledge of the discussions, reported Comcast was in talks with GE to buy a stake of about 50 percent in NBC Universal (NBCU).
The deal would partly depend on Vivendi making a decision to sell its NBCU holding, one of the sources told the news agency.
A spokesman for GE could not be reached for comment. NBC Universal declined comment.
A $35 billion deal to buy 100 percent of NBCU would value Vivendi's stake at 4.8 billion euros ($7 billion), above estimated valuations ranging from 3 billion euros to 3.8 billion, analysts said.
Analysts have recently said if GE does not want to take full control of NBCU, Vivendi's share could be sold to another media company. The names of Comcast, Time Warner and Liberty Media have emerged in media reports.
But Vivendi could also opt to sell the stake in an initial public offering (IPO), assuming the stock market continues to recover.
A Comcast scenario would change the picture. The sale of the whole of NBC Universal would be positive, raising hopes of a better valuation (for Vivendi's stake) than under an IPO, said CM-CIC analyst Eric Ravary.
Natixis Securities analyst Richard Houbron said the Comcast comments, in his view, left the door open to any scenario.
We understand that either Comcast is not talking with GE, or that the two parties have not yet found an agreement, but that they are indeed negotiating, Houbron said. The terms of a Comcast transaction, if confirmed, would be clearly attractive for Vivendi, he said.
Analysts say a sale of its NBCU stake would allow Vivendi to buy out minority investors in Canal Plus France, its pay TV business. Unlike NBCU, Canal Plus France is viewed as a key business for Vivendi.
We think the scenario of Vivendi's exit from NBCU is credible and could be a positive catalyst for the stock, said Oddo Securities analyst Bruno Hareng.
Vivendi shares were up 0.1 euros at 21.245 euros by 1120 GMT.
(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke and Paul Thomasch in New York, Ajay Kamalakaran in Bangalore, with Marcel Michelson and Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Writing by Gina Keating; Editing by Dhara Ranasinghe and David Holmes)