Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

In Their Own Words: Comcast’s Case for–and Against–an NBCU Deal

Reporter Sharon Waxman says Comcast has a deal to buy NBC Universal from GE (GE) for $35 billion. Comcast, in a statement, says that’s not true.

Could Comcast (CMCSA) be talking to NBC Universal about…something? Could be–that’s what the Los Angeles Times and other outlets reported last night.

And Comcast’s statement says there’s no “deal,” which doesn’t preclude “talks about deals.” Then again, it’s awfully unusual for a company in Comcast’s position to say anything at all.

Clear as mud? Then this won’t help. Check out these comments from Comcast COO Steve Burke at a Sept. 9 conference hosted by Bank of America (BAC) where analyst Jessica Reif-Cohen asked him about his appetite for acquisitions.

Burke said he’d love get more cable channels (like the kind NBCU owns). And he said he didn’t want a really big deal that would require the company to use its shares or take on a lot of debt (like, say, a $35 billion deal for NBCU). He said all this, by the way, in the span of a single answer.

I’ll carve it up and translate for you:

We’ve had plenty of debt, and we don’t want any more right now, thank you very much.

Well, if you look at cable companies over the last 10 or 20 years–I joined the Company 11 years ago. It is really amazing how deleveraged our Company and other cable companies have gotten….We like where we are from a leverage point of view and I think [we] would be uncomfortable if our leverage was significantly higher.

But boy oh boy, are cable channels attractive!

At our core, we believe that content and distribution work well together….I think there are a lot of case studies where content and distribution, particularly in a world where the distribution has technology that can deliver content in new and innovative ways, you really can create a lot of value by putting content and distribution together, particularly if that content is cable content.

And again, when you look at the big media companies, the best businesses that all of us have in the entertainment business I think are the cable content channels and those channels with that dual revenue stream are really good businesses. And I think we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t try to figure out a way to get bigger in those businesses. Those businesses are growing more rapidly than our cable business and if the opportunity came about where we could add cable content to our portfolio, I think we would do it.

But really, we’re not in the market for a mega-deal.

Just to sort of get it right out there, I don’t think that means doing a big deal with our stock. I think all of us think our stock is significantly undervalued. So I don’t think that means doing a big deal with our stock. I also don’t think that means doing a big $50 billion acquisition. I think it is more trying to find opportunities that are complementary with our core business, that don’t take our balance sheet and push it back into a position, which we have worked so hard to get it down.

Never say never!

We are going to try to make sure that we are disciplined and we have high IRRs and good free cash flow generation and we will see if anything comes available. If it does, we will certainly look at it.

Got it? Me either. The only way I can reconcile Burke’s comments with the notion that Comcast is interested in an NBCU deal would be if Comcast was talking about buying Vivendi’s 20 percent stake in the NBCU.

Comcast could swing that one without breaking the bank–the conventional wisdom is that it would cost something in the $5 billion range. And it would technically increase Comcast’s cable network holdings, as Burke says he wants to do. But not really: Comcast would be a minority shareholder with no clear path to control. And it wouldn’t get the “distribution plus content” benefit Burke was talking about last month.

Anyone else have any ideas? Feel free to sound off below.

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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo