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KAI RYSSDAL: There’s been some talk lately about whether General Electric is going to sell NBC Universal to Comcast, the big cable company. For that to happen, something else needs to get done first. The French entertainment company Vivendi would have to sell its 20 percent stake in NBC back to GE. Then GE would sell a controlling interest to Comcast. It sounds like so much corporate gobbledygook.
But Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson reports from New York, a Comcast-owned NBC could be quite noticeable to consumers.
Jeremy Hobson: For one thing, if Comcast runs NBC, it’ll become the biggest media company in the country.
Steven Winoker is a research analyst at Sanford Bernstein. He says with Comcast, NBC would have an owner more concerned with content than corporate stock.
Steven Winoker: Clearly, you know, they’re a pure-play cable and media company and they will approach things differently on a pure-play basis than GE, which is looking at how is NBC going to help drive profitability for shareholders over time.
Winoker says under GE’s management, NBC’s cable channels have flourished, as its broadcast and film businesses have lagged.
Analyst Laura Martin at Soleil Securities says GE’s frugality has been downright harmful to NBC.
Laura Martin: They’ve been cutting back and doing stupid things like putting Leno in prime time, which has really destroyed a lot of value and angered a lot of advertisers, because they’re trying to save money.
If Comcast runs the show, Martin expects NBC will have better programming. And she thinks the ad-supported online TV site Hulu — partially owned by NBC — would start charging viewers. As for cutbacks, Steven Winoker says he wouldn’t expect much of that under Comcast.
Winoker: With Comcast, there’s less overlap than say, if a Time Warner were to do a deal like this, where there’d be a lot more overlap and you could I think count on a lot more cost reduction.
But, of course, this all depends on Vivendi selling its NBC Universal stake back to GE.
That won’t happen until mid-November at the earliest.
In New York, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.
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