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Updated: As usual, NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) merits only a footnote in parent General Electric’s earnings, but the media company is likely to draw more attention this time around considering the sale talks swirling around it. As its parent saw its profits fall 44 percent, largely due to the weakness of its financial arm, NBCU had a lopsided Q3: earnings grew 13 percent to $732 million while revenues dropped 20 percent to $4 billion from $5 billion.
Typically, NBCU’s woes are attributed to its declining broadcast business, which offset gains on the cable side. possibility of buying out Vivendi’s 20 percent stake in NBCU or doing an IPO. The most likely scenario being discussed so far is a merger with Comcast’s programming assets that would leave GE as a 49 percent stakeholder. That wasn’t addressed specifically during the earnings call but, according to Reuters, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the company wanted to be “ready for several scenarios” this year, among them an IPO or another partner.
In his overview of GE’s business segments during the conference call, CFO Keith Sherin confirmed the strength of NBCU’s cable holdings in Q3. Revenue was up 8 percent to $1.2 billion, while operating profit grew 11 percent to $552 million. In particular, USA Network’s high ratings led the segment, with help from Syfy, CNBC and Bravo. On the broadcast end, revenues at $1.4 billion were flat excluding the $1 billion in revs stemming from the Olympics last year and operating profit was up about 4 percent without the Beijing games.
Sherin also highlighted a $283 after tax gain from the sale of a little more than a third of GE’s stake in A&E, which was combined with Lifetime. On the minus side, that gain was partially offset by a write down of NBCU’s stake in India’s NDTV. GE also recorded some impairment on the value of the Weather Channel acquisition in July ’08.
Asked for comment on the NBCU sale rumors, Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt told investors on the call: “A lot of the speculation has been on NBCU and some way shape or form there