The fact that NBCUniversal, the parent company of the NBC television network and Universal Studios, is up for sale isn't news. The value of the division has plummeted over the past 18 months and GE was keen on finally letting it go. What is surprising is their negotiations with cable giant Comcast were kept quiet for so long.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the nation's largest cable operator is negotiating to either acquire or invest in the iconic properties. Comcast released a statement denying an earlier report in The Wrap that the company had a deal to buy NBCUni, but wouldn't elaborate on what talks were occuring. NBC Universal would not comment on the report altogether. The Hollywood Reporter says the initial Wrap report is "innaccurate."
Still, if Comcast did acquire NBCUni it would also bring huge cable properties such as USA, Syfy, CNBC, MSNBC and Bravo as well as the Universal Studios theme parks into their fold. Comcast already owns E! Entertainment, G4, Versus, Fearnet and a number of regional sports networks, but none have the influence or revenue production of NBCUni's.
Any deal would be complex because of the tax implications involved for GE as well as acquiring FCC approval. Perhaps the main reasons both parties were able to keep the talks quiet for so long.
While GE has soured over the years on the unpredictable profit margins from their entertainment division, the urgency in the Comcast talks is spurred by French investor Vivendi threatening to unload it's 20% stake in NBCUni by the end of the year. It is unclear whether GE could raise the $4-5 billion needed to buy Vivendi's stake or whether they would have to deal with competitor TimeWarner or even Comcast buying Vivendi's stake.
For moviegoers and TV viewers, a new owner could mean a sea change at the top of NBCUni which could breathe some life into both the television network and the studio. NBC has had a mixed start to the fall season with the highly criticized move of the five-nights a week "Jay Leno Show" at 10 PM and Universal has had a string of disappointing releases this year including "Funny People" and "Public Enemies."
With speculation about the health of companies such as Overture Films, The Weinstein Company and MGM as well as the open chairman slot at Walt Disney Pictures, it appears Hollywood is looking at a very eventful fall and winter season...in the boardroom.
More news on this story as it develops on HitFix.