Comcast & GE form entertainment joint venture company

MUMBAI: Comcast and General Electric (GE) have signed an agreement to form a joint venture that will be 51 percent owned by Comcast, 49 percent owned by GE and managed by Comcast. The joint venture will consist of the NBC Universal (NBCU) businesses and Comcast’s cable networks, regional sports networks and certain digital properties and certain unconsolidated investments.

The joint venture will provide consumers a wide access to content, and support content development across all platforms including film, television, and online. It will be anchored by a portfolio of cable networks and regional sports networks that will account for about 80 percent of its cash flow, including USA, Bravo, Syfy, E!, Versus, CNBC and MSNBC.

Under the terms of the transaction, GE will contribute to the joint venture NBCU’s businesses valued at $30 billion, including its cable networks, filmed entertainment, televised entertainment, theme parks, and unconsolidated investments, subject to $9.1 billion in debt to third party lenders. Comcast will contribute its cable networks including E!, Versus and the Golf Channel, its ten regional sports networks, and certain digital media properties, collectively valued at $7.25 billion, and make a payment to GE of approximately $6.5 billion of cash subject to certain adjustments based on various events between signing and closing.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said, "This deal is a perfect fit for Comcast and will allow us to become a leader in the development and distribution of multiplatform ‘anytime, anywhere’ media that American consumers are demanding. In particular, NBCU’s fast-growing, highly profitable cable networks are a great complement to our industry-leading distribution business. Today’s announced transaction will increase our capabilities in content and cable networks. At the same time, it will enhance consumer choice and accelerate the development of new digital products and services. GE has provided NBCU with a great home and has dramatically and positively transformed the business. We are honored that under this agreement Comcast would take over the stewardship of this important collection of assets and are absolutely committed to investing in NBCU and ensuring that it is a vibrant, financially strong company able to thrive in a rapidly evolving marketplace by delivering innovative programming. We are particularly pleased to be creating this new joint venture with GE and Jeff Immelt and to have their continued involvement."

"For Comcast, this transaction is strategically compelling and will generate attractive financial returns and build shareholder value. It is also expected to be immediately accretive and will also allow us to maintain our strong commitment to returning capital to shareholders– all while increasing the scale, capabilities and value of our cable distribution, content and digital assets. Significantly, it is entirely consistent with our intense focus on value creation and our disciplined strategy of pursuing profitable growth in areas complementary to our distribution business," added Roberts.

GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said, "The combination of Comcast’s cable and regional sports networks and digital media properties and NBCU will deliver strong returns for GE shareholders and business partners. NBCU has been a great business for GE over the past two decades. We have generated an average annual return of 11 percent, while expanding into cable, movies, parks and international media. We are reducing our ownership stake from 80 percent to 49 percent of a more valuable entity. By doing so, GE gets a good value for NBCU. This transaction will generate approximately $8 billion of cash at closing with an expected small after-tax gain. We have many opportunities to invest in our high-technology infrastructure businesses at attractive returns. I believe that the new NBCU will deliver value for both Comcast and GE in the future. We will give consumers and advertisers more choice and our cable and digital assets will be second to none. I am confident Brian Roberts and his team at Comcast will be great partners."

Comcast also announced the creation of Comcast Entertainment Group (CEG), which will house Comcast’s interest in the joint venture and will stand alongside Comcast Cable, which operates the company’s traditional cable business.

Comcast COO Steve Burke said, "Both Comcast and NBCU have excellent track records of integrating and growing multi-billion dollar businesses, including significant content acquisitions. In addition, we have both developed some of the country’s most popular programming and built many of the most watched and valued networks in the industry. We are confident that we’ll be even stronger together, and look forward to working with Jeff Zucker and the NBCU team to deliver the best consumer experience."

NBCU president and CEO Jeff Zucker will be CEO of the new joint venture and will report to Burke. Zucker said, "Combining the assets of NBCU, ranging from our suite of cable properties and two broadcast networks to a legendary film studio and global theme park business, with the content assets and resources of Comcast, will enable us to continue to thrive in an ever-changing media landscape. Consumers of all of our products – on screens large and small – will have the benefit of enhanced content and experiences, delivered to them in new and better ways as a result of this transaction. This marks the start of a new era for NBCU, and I’m genuinely excited that I will be leading this wonderful organization, along with the Comcast team, at this important time in our history."

GE earlier agreed to acquire Vivendi’s 20% interest in NBCU for $5.8 billion. GE will purchase approximately 38% of Vivendi’s interest (or approximately 7.66% of all outstanding NBCU shares) from Vivendi for $2 billion in September 2010, if the Comcast transaction is not closed by then. GE will acquire the remaining 62% of Vivendi’s interest (or approximately 12.34% of all outstanding NBCU shares) for $3.8 billion when the transaction closes.