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NBC U turns profit despite Peacock fall

Operating profit jumps 27% to $979 mil in 2nd quarter

NEW YORK — NBC Universal continued to turn a healthy profit for giant parent conglom General Electric in the last quarter, even with the Peacock’s costly tumble in primetime.

Still, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt told investors during a conference call Friday that NBC has to “do better on the programming front.”

“We’re going to have to get an improvement in primetime ratings. We have a robust business model, and the volatility has to come down,” Immelt said, at the same time stressing the overall might of NBC is “just great.”

NBC U’s operating profit jumped 27% to $979 million in the second quarter, on the strength of DVD sales and cable nets, including USA Network and the Sci Fi Channel. Profits were boosted by the recent deal to buy out Barry Diller’s stake in Vivendi Universal Entertainment, held by Diller’s IAC/InterActive Corp.

Revenue at NBC U jumped 35% to $3.86 billion during what Immelt described as “one of the best quarters” in the entire conglom’s history. GE reported double-digit profit growth across all of its 11 divisions.

Immelt said the Peacock’s primetime ratings would have to improve if NBC U wants to stay on par with other GE divisions in terms of profit growth in 2006.

The GE topper said NBC continues to feel the loss of “Friends” and “Frasier,” and predicted a 20% decline in revenue in the current quarter.

Immelt said NBC still has plenty of growth points, including the recent deal to bring NFL games to Sunday night and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Immelt agreed the May upfronts were particularly tough for NBC. Peacock wrote $2 billion in upfront business — down $900 million from last year.

“The great news is that film and DVD are very strong, cable up over 100%. DVD sales were 6% ahead of our plan,” Immelt said during the earnings call, calming investor concerns that the DVD market is going bust.

GE chief financial officer Keith Sherin also touted the box office performance of “The Interpreter,” which ended the second quarter with more than $150 million in worldwide box office receipts.

For the quarter ended June 30, GE’s net income rose to $4.65 billion, or 44¢ a share, compared to $3.75 billion, or 36¢ a share, during the same quarter a year ago.

GE’s revenue climbed 13% to $42 billion last quarter from $36.78 billion the year before, including businesses GE acquired over the past year.

GE shares were down 10¢ to close at $35.53 in trading Friday upon the earnings news.

(Willa Paskin in New York contributed to this report.)

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