The top executives of General Electric and Comcast Corp, which sources say are negotiating a multi-billion dollar sale of NBC Universal, said they were keeping their options open but offered few hints of whether a deal may soon emerge.
On Tuesday, GE chief Jeff Immelt suggested a deal to sell its entertainment arm was not mandatory, with Comcast widely reported to be in talks to buy a majority stake in TV and movie studio NBC Universal.
The deal under consideration would combine Comcast's cable network assets and $4-6 billion cash with NBC Universal, creating a content powerhouse spanning TV broadcast, cable networks, movie and theme park assets.
Under the envisioned deal, Comcast would take a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal and GE would own the rest of a company valued at around $30 billion, according to people close to the discussions.
But on Tuesday, both company head honchos played their cards close to the vest. Immelt said he was totally OK with retaining control of the TV and movie entertainment house, and that he was comfortable with the asset.
Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said he would look at all opportunities in the content business.
Addressing a tech industry forum in San Francisco, Immelt said: There's lots of options -- one where we can control our own destiny, and think of a series of different options on our own schedule.
I like NBCU, he said. We've run it a long time; financially, the business is running in line with its peers.
Both executives however would not comment directly on a potential sale, or even whether discussions were underway.
Speaking at the same forum, Roberts was positive about his company's interest in acquiring content.
If there's an opportunity, whether it's the one you are talking about or other, our philosophy is it's prudent to think about it, look at it and beyond that we have to just wait and see, Roberts said.
Despite both executives showing up at the event, Immelt said he had not met with his Comcast counterpart on Tuesday.
ALL IN FAVOR
Some analysts say NBC Universal -- which also builds theme parks -- is an incongruous asset in a General Electric portfolio that spans aircraft engines and power turbines, among other industrial arms.
Immelt said he had pondered various options for NBC, including an initial public offering for the TV and movie entertainment house. But he added GE now has to consider forging new partnerships to drive NBC, the nation's No. 4 network after falling through the rankings.
Talks between the companies have been handled by advisors from both sides, including investment bankers. Comcast is also being advised by former News Corp president Peter Chernin, according to people familiar with the talks.
Though GE owns 80 percent of NBC Universal, any deal between Comcast and GE would depend on NBC Universal's current 20 percent-owner Vivendi SA agreeing to sel