NEW YORK – Comcast’s acquisition today of controlling interest in NBC undoubtedly will impact the network and its employees, but officials are remaining mum for now on what that means.
When the deal was announced, WND contacted a high-ranking official with the news division of the network, who went silent when asked about the potential influence of Comcast, which is known for a less liberal political approach than the former owner, General Electric.
Could the new owners “temper” the politics? The official wasn’t able to respond.
“I hear you,” he said.
There also was no response to questions about how the news division “would relate” to its new owners at Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia.
The impact on employees also remains unknown.
Just how many workers would be joining the ranks of the unemployed because of the change was not revealed.
“It won’t be too many,” is all Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke would say.
The deal came about after a year of on-again, off-again talks. Under the agreement, Comcast will become the new “manager” of NBC and all its associated properties.
The new Comcast Entertainment Group (CEG) will count the embattled fourth-place NBC-TV network, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, “E” and the Spanish-language Telemundo channel among its many properties.
Throughout today, a small group which included GE Chairman Jeff Immelt, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBC/UNI President Jeff Zucker and Burke met reporters and analysts but did not deviate from carefully prepared scripts.
For the two CEOs, today’s announcement was portrayed as the “best” of all worlds:
Roberts said, “This is a perfect fit for Comcast and will allow us to become a leader in the development of multi-platform anytime, anywhere media.”
He added that the decision to do a deal with GE “was strategically compelling.”
Immelt, who has seen the once pristine GE stock plummet by more than 30 percent over the past year, said: “I believe that the new NBC/UNI will deliver value for both GE and Comcast shareholders.”
For Roberts, the GE deal was “sweet revenge” for a lost battle waged only a few years ago when Michael Eisner rebuffed Comcast’s efforts to swallow the Walt Disney Company and its prized property, ESPN.
For Immelt, the sale was a defacto acknowledgment that the conglomerate’s finance unit, GE Capital, was in need of new funds as a result of the worldwide economic crash.
Documents obtained by WND show GE will receive cash in excess of $15.5 billion for just a 51 percent stake in the new partnership. Should GE decide to sell its remaining 49 percent over the next seven years that figure could climb substantially. The company had placed a $30 billion price tag on the entire division.
Comcast will leave management of the new partnership to current NBC president Jeff Zucker and Burke.
While Roberts insisted that “Steve and Jeff will work well together” to run the new operation, Immelt insisted several times that NBC-TV’s current fourth-place slump “was not acceptable.”
That has raised speculation that the affable Zucker may be on marked time.
The New York Times reported internal projections by GE showed NBC on a fast track to become a substantial money drain on corporate profits, a compelling reversal for a division that had once been a corporate “cash cow.”
A bigger minefield awaits NBC/Comcast in the first quarter of 2010.
While the network is expected to get a boost from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, it also is the first opportunity for NBC affiliates to begin dropping the disappointing “Jay Leno Show.” Word is several major affiliated stations may abandon ship.
If so, that move could accelerate the continuing slide of the “Tonight” show with Conan O’Brian which has trailed David Letterman on CBS and ABC’s “Nightline.”
Coincidentally, Leno has given several recent interviews stating that he “might be open” to return to late night but would not elaborate.