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Malone, Murdoch Kick NBCU’s Tires, But No Test Drives

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As luck would have it, the News Corp (NYSE: NWS). and Liberty Media (NSDQ: LINTA) annual meetings both took place in New York today — the same day that GE CEO Jeff Immelt once again was talking IPO or partner for NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) during an earnings call. Both companies have been mentioned as possible spoilers in GE’s negotiations with Comcast for a merger of NBCU with the cable operator’s programming assets. But that’s all it is so far: talk. Rupert Murdoch told shareholders (via Robert MacMillan ) that News Corp. is looking at NBCU but confirmed there are no negotiations. Meanwhile, (via Ken Li) John Malone says Liberty Media had a “one-way” conversation with GE banker Goldman Sachs and that it’s too expensive, valuing NBC at 11 times “real” cash flow. He would be interested at 7 times. [Update: Multichannel‘s Mike Farrell has the full details on that.]

The Vivendi (EPA: VIV) board didn’t come to a decision during a meeting earlier this week but has until December to set a sale in motion. People familiar with the situation say GE went to Comcast after hearing from Vivendi over the summer that this likely would be the year the French company decides to sell its stake in NBCU. That doesn’t mean Comcast is the only option. Immelt has mentioned the possibility of an IPO several times — and while some have interpreted that to mean an offering for Vivendi’s stake, I’m told GE is seriously considering an IPO for the whole unit.

But no one I’ve spoken to this week sees Murdoch being serious about NBCU (always with the “you never know” caveat). Malone and Liberty are another story. Liberty controls DirecTV (NYSE: DTV), the satellite operator which competes with Comcast and other cable operators for subscribers — and a likely source of regulatory concern. It also owns Starz Entertainment, several regional sports networks, QVC, along with other interests. Between cash and assets, Liberty could make a deal but would it be a deal GE wants or one that could make it through the process? Towards the end of today’s meeting, Malone spoke about wanting to avoid partnerships or investments that lock Liberty in; among other things, GE is talking about a seven-year exit path with Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA). Any deal will be complicated but GE isn’t likely to settle for less and take the added complexity of partnering with Liberty at the same time.

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