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Beth Comstock’s $1 billion year

BethcomstockHaving pitched NBC Universal’s tent in the heart of the Consumer Electronics Show exhibition floor in Las Vegas this week, Beth Comstock is off to a running start in what will undoubtedly be an eventful year for all the digital, marketing and television advertising turf she oversees at NBC U.

The conglom’s president of Integrated Media has made a number of new media bets, big and small, that will come due in the next year. I’m generally not big on “ones to watch” predictions but in this case I think Comstock qualifies.

The most high-profile bet NBC U has made is Hulu.com, the joint Internet vid venture with News Corp. that is still in beta mode but expected to be ready for primetime in the not-so-distant future. Hulu is stocked with ad supported, free web-streaming titles, from contempo NBC and Fox hits to scads of vintage product from both studios. (If you’ve just got to see the episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” where Les Nessman tries to end it all by jumping off a ledge, Hulu is where you outta be.)

Feature film content so far pretty is limited, though it does include cult faves such as “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “The Breakfast Club.” (Some programmer is doing his or her homework.)

Unlike past studio-backed ‘Net efforts, the partners aren’t banking so much on making Hulu.com a destination unto itself, but rather the hub from which to syndicate free, ad-embedded content through its formidable distrib partners including MSN, AOL, Yahoo and MySpace, among others. Hulu in October garnered a $100 million equity investment from a major player in the private equity world, Providence Equity Partners.

Smaller bets include a joint venture inked with Procter & Gamble last month on a website, Petside.com, targeting pet owners and the $40 billion they spend on furry friends each year. In between deals the size of Hulu.com and Petside.com are investments NBC U is making in vid game developers and producers, Internet and mobile advertising services and other lifestyle-oriented initiatives. Comstock is working closely with the finance wizards at Peacock Equity, a $250 million investment fund that its parent GE set up earlier this year to make $3 million-$25 million investments in startups and companies with products and services that may be a good fit with NBC U’s needs in the new world order.

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