Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Report: Comcast Buying NBC for $35 Billion. Comcast: “Inaccurate”

the_office_promo_pic_nbcHere’s the big media deal everyone has been waiting for. Or at least, here’s the report: Sharon Waxman of TheWrap says cable giant Comcast is buying all of NBC Universal from GE for $35 billion.

The deal was hammered out by reps at a Tuesday meeting, Waxman reports, citing “two individuals informed about the meeting.” The $35 billion price tag happens to be the value that a recent JP Morgan report assigned to the company.

Comcast (CMCSA), in a statement, says the story is untrue: “While we do not normally comment on M&A rumors, the report that Comcast has a deal to purchase NBC Universal is inaccurate.” NBC Universal has no comment.

Clintonian parsers will note that Comcast’s denial has potential wiggle room: It isn’t denying, for instance, that the two companies had or are having talks. On the other hand, this is exactly the situation where corporate PR protocol calls for the “we don’t comment on market rumor and speculation” line. That way, you have the option of updating your statement if the story does turn out to be true. And for what it’s worth, I can’t recall the last time I saw a big, publicly traded company respond to an M&A story with this specificity.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times’s Joe Flint now says that Comcast is “kicking the tires” at NBCU, according to “people familiar with the situation.” His report is much more hedged than Waxman’s.

All that said, this is a tie-up that has a first-blush logic to it: Comcast is flush with cash and could presumably take on more debt if it wanted to, and the company has shown an interest in branching out into content before. In 2004, it made a run at Disney (DIS). And the drumbeat for GE (GE) to dump its 80 percent stake in NBCU has been more or less constant, even while the industrial conglomerate insisted it had no interest in selling.

Those drumbeats get louder every year around this time, by the way. That’s because Vivendi, which owns the remaining 20 percent stake in NBCU, has a put option that kicks in every November and that could theoretically force GE into buying out the stake or spinning the whole thing out to the public.

More theoretical ammunition for a deal: Comcast is one of the few potential buyers that could swallow up all of NBCU. While there might be lots of people interested in NBCU’s cable properties (USA, Bravo, SciFi, etc.), there aren’t many who also want the company’s flailing broadcast property.

And while Universal’s film library is potentially attractive to some buyers, many of them–like Time Warner (TWX), for instance–have no interest in the film studio because they already have one.

If you want to play out the theoretical implications for digital, things could get very interesting. NBC is one of the founding partners at Hulu, the free Web TV portal that’s caused consternation for Comcast and other cable providers, which worry that the site is undermining the value of the TV programming they spend big money on. And Comcast and Time Warner have been trying out a “TV Everywhere” strategy that is, in part, a reaction to Hulu’s initial success. But let’s let the dust settle for a minute before we head in that direction.

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