General Electric and cable operator Comcast have been dancing around each other for months, with Comcast looking to expand its already-massive business by acquiring NBC’s movie and television operations in what would surely be a massive deal. How massive? According to Rueters and a report in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) the companies have now agreed on a price: $30 billion to create a new, private company combining Comcast with NBC.
Although no deal is done, reports have Comcast controlling 51 percent of the new company, with NBC parent company General Electric owning the remaining 49 percent. However, both parties are reportedly talking about a deal that would have GE gradually selling its share of the joint venture to Comcast over a period of five to ten years, eventually leaving Comcast the sole owner.
The deal would include NBC’s broadcast television network as well as cable properties, which include channels like Bravo, Sci-Fi, and USA. NBC also owns major online sites like iVillage, and is a partner in the successful online video service Hulu. Comcast has been attempting to compete with Hulu via it’s own Fancast offering. Another variable in the deal is French media company Vivendi, which owns a 20 percent stake in NBC. Vivendi has reportedly been looking to unload its NBC stake for a while, but has yet to weigh in on a potential deal with Comcast.
Any merger between NBC and Comcast would require regulatory approval, a process that could take as much as a year. With an NBC acquisition, Comcast would be stepping into the same territory Time-Warner worked for years to get out of: being both a media distributor and a media creator. Carriers are required to maintain a neutral stance toward content, not granting favorable treatment to any one outlet or source over any other. If Comcast were to get in the business of producing its own shows and movies, there would be a natural tendency to want to leverage its broadcast, cable, and Internet operations to promote and monetize those offerings…and that would come at the expense of competitors.