UPDATE: Good news about NBC Universal in GE’s poor 3rd-quarter earnings report today which showed that overall profit fell 45% at the parent company and revenue missed forecasts. GE shares were sent tumbling 5% this morning as a result. Even though GE selling off part of NBCU, the entertainment unit posted a 13% increase in 3-Q profit — $732 million, compared with a profit of $645 million a year ago. Revenue, however, dropped 20% to $4 billion. But that NBCU profit was lifted by a $283 million after-tax gain on the sale of its stake in the A&E cable channel, which was partially offset by a reduction in value at the Weather Channel and other items. Keith Sherin, GE’s chief financial officer, boasted during a conference call with analysts how NBC the network cut costs by eliminating primetime dramas in the 10 OM hour this season, and claimed the Jay Leno Show ratings are exceeding NBC’s estimates so far. He also noted that 4th-quarter advertising sales are up by a double-digit percentage at the network, and more than 20% at the NBC Universal cable networks, including USA, Bravo, Syfy, CNBC and Oxygen. Cable networks profit rose 11% to $552 million in the 3rd-quarter. NBC’s profit was up about 4% excluding last year’s Olympic-related ad sales.
At Universal Pictures, revenue plunged 20% in what has become a disastrous year for the movie studio have 2007 and 2008 were banner years.
Chairman Jeff Immelt said GE is preparing for a possible IPO of the business, or considering taking on another partner. He told analysts, “There has been speculation around NBCU for a long time. The company has got a lot of cash, you know, so we’re in great shape overall. NBCU is a great franchise — it consistently delivered income growth and cash pre-recession.” But whether GE and Comcast can come together in a 51%-49% partnership is up in the air now that Vivendi has delayed selling its 20% stake in NBCU to focus on a bidding war for the Brazilian phone operator GVT. The French company could even wait another year to make its NBCU move, which would leave GE/Comcast twisting in the wind and hinder Immelt’s plan to transform GE into more of an industrial company than dependent on the fortunes of its finance arm GE Capital or its entertainment branch NBCU. Meanwhile, the latest news is about GE’s plans to divest the media unit entirely in seven years, which makes sense since no company wants a less-than-controlling ownership of a sizeable asset like the branded showbiz group.