Comcast sees growth from NBCUniversal stronger than anticipated

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:00pm EST
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By Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - Stronger-than-expected growth in NBCUniversal's entertainment unit gave Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O: Quote) the impetus to buy the rest of the company from General Electric Co (GE.N: Quote) two years earlier than expected.

"NBCUniversal's 2012 results highlight in particular the improving performance of our broadcast businesses," Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in a call with analysts. "NBC's prime time performance this fall has been improving.

"While we recognize it is early in the turnaround, this is driving a big swing in momentum which should continue to help the network."

NBCUniversal's cable networks, such as the Golf Channel, E! and Bravo among others, rose 3.3 percent to $8.77 billion last year. Cable networks have become the main growth driver in the last few years for the industry.

Roberts said the numbers made an even stronger case for buying out GE's 49 percent stake for $16.7 billion. The deal values NBCUniversal at $39 billion.

Bill Smead, chief investment officer of Smead Capital Management, who owns 273,000 of Comcast said he liked the deal because Comcast will be able to make money on NBC's programming as new ways to watch content emerge.

"There is a myriad of distribution systems that will pay for NBC content in the future," he said.

Comcast said NBCUniversal's total revenue last year rose 13 percent to $23.81 billion. Its broadcast TV network, NBC, a long-time industry laggard, saw the biggest revenue growth, gaining 27.4 percent to $8.15 billion on the strength of popular television events such as the Olympics and the 2012 Super Bowl.   Continued...

The news ticker outside the Today Show announces GE's sale of NBC to Comcast, in New York, in this December 3, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Chip East/Files