Revenue dipped 8% to $3.6 billion

NBC Universal profits tumbled 41% last quarter as robust cable networks couldn’t offset the broadcast blues.

The company, a unit of giant General Electric, posted earnings of $539 million for the three months ended in June. Revenue dipped 8% to $3.6 billion.

GE chairman-CEO Jeff Immelt said NBC U’s “overall performance is not as negative as it looks” since the 2008 numbers were buoyed by the sale of the Sundance Channel to Cablevision for nearly $500 million. The division also took a hefty writedown on its remaining investment in broadcaster Ion Media.

Immelt told investors on a conference call Friday that cable networks USA, Oxygen, Bravo, and news nets MSNBC and CNBC continued to deliver strong growth but noted ongoing pressure in advertising and local television markets.

A brutal economic downturn has slammed advertising, media’s bread and butter. Three months ago, in the previous round of earnings, some execs said they thought the ad market had hit bottom. A new batch of financials coming out over the next few weeks will be anxiously scrutinized for signs that the worst is over.

Last week, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said things seem to be looking up in the third quarter. “Our local TV business for the third quarter, our local television stations, seem to be improving,” Zucker said in an interview with CNBC from the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. “It’s not what we want it to be, but it’s a little better,” he said.

In a nod to NBC’s shakeup of latenight television, Immelt said he’s “pleased with the transition of Jimmy Fallon and Conan.” Industryites are closely watching the ratings to get a sense of the success, or lack thereof, in NBC’s musical chairs.

Last month, Conan O’Brian took over “Tonight” from Jay Leno in the first major shift in latenight in 17 years. Fallon took over Conan’s gig. “The Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS has beaten Conan in total viewers in two of the past three weeks, although O’Brien leads in the coveted 18-49 demo.

Leno will be back in September with a new show weekdays at 10 p.m., a move seen as a radical, and risky, change to primetime programming.

Immelt said the upfronts have been very slow, and the network is planning on retaining more inventory heading into the fall.

At Universal, film results were squeezed by fewer “significant” DVD releases vs. last year combined with a somewhat disappointing quarter at the box office.

NBC U’s theme park biz was solid, Immelt said. And digital “is a very good story,” with Hulu ranked as the No. 2 video site after YouTube. Disney recently joined NBC U and News Corp. as a partner on the site.

GE said its total profits fell 49% to $2.6 billion last quarter. Revenue dipped 17% to $39 billion.

Aside from NBC U, the company’s vast businesses are grouped into Energy Infrastructure, Technology Infrastructure, Capital Finance, and Consumer and Industrial.

The first two divisions in particular are sprawling companies that dwarf NBC U in both revenue and profits and operate in everything from energy to aviation, health care and transportation.

The scope of GE’s operations makes it a bellwether for the global economy. Its shares closed down 6% Friday after the results came out, weighing on the overall market.

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