On Wednesday, cable and internet provider Comcast announced that it would become the sole owner of NBCUniversal, purchasing the 49 percent stake that belongs to General Electric for $16.7 billion. The deal represents a huge bet by Comcast on traditional entertainment outlets, at a time when the industry is in a state of flux brought on by the advent of Netflix, Apple, and other internet-based entertainment providers.
In a sign of its eagerness, Comcast bumped up an option from a 2011 agreement that allowed it to purchase the rest of NBCUniversal within three-and-a-half to seven years. The company will own the NBC broadcast network, Universal Pictures, and several cable channels, including USA, Bravo, E!, MSNBC, and Telemundo. The company will also operate the Universal Studios theme park. In a separate deal, Comcast agreed to purchase 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City from G.E.
While NBCUniversal's cable channels are profitable, its flagship broadcast network has fallen to fourth place in the ratings race. However, NBC's ratings appear to be showing signs of life, a point underscored by Comcast officials. "We feel good about the turnaround," said Comcast chief Brian Roberts.
Indeed, some analysts say Comcast got the better end of the deal, according to the Associated Press:
Analyst Matthew Harrigan at Wunderlich Securities said G.E. "mispriced" the $16.7 billion deal.
Doug Mitchelson at Deutsche Bank said he had expected that G.E. would have held out for a better price. He asked Comcast executives on a conference call Wednesday morning if they sweetened the deal somehow. [Associated Press]
G.E., for its part, has been in the process of shedding businesses that distract from more profitable ventures in energy and resource extraction. "We think this is an attractive exit price," said Keith Sherin, G.E.'s chief financial officer. And as one unidentified official close to the negotiations told The Wall Street Journal, "A candy bar today is better than a candy bar tomorrow."
With the deal, G.E. will add to its huge cash reserves of $77 billion. Company officials say some of it will go toward a stock buyback plan for shareholders, but did not specify any other plans. "Translation? G.E. doesn't know what to do with the money and is giving it back to shareholders," says Steve Denning at Forbes. "Although G.E.'s slogan is 'imagination at work' when it comes to investment in the future, imagination at G.E. is still in short supply."