A&E '09 merger impacts current report

Revenues in GE’s 80% stake of NBC Universal were down 15% in the third quarter to $4.07 billion — but more or less flat when considered alongside a segment profit of $625 million.

“The real results are better than the reported results,” said Keith Sherin, GE’s chief financial officer and vice chairman.

Sherin said that the entertainment conglom’s financials should be considered in light of NBC U’s stake in A&E Television Networks.

The Peacock’s stake in A&E was reduced last year through the merger of A&E and History with Lifetime, which inflated third-quarter 2009 results, which the report used for comparison.

“If you take out the net impact of the AETN gain and net impairment charges,” NBC U’s operating profit is actually up 5% and its revenue up 7%, Sherin said.

GE chairman-CEO Jeffrey Immelt said he expected the divestiture of NBC U to go forward as planned in the fourth quarter.

More than once, Immelt answered questions about GE’s growth by predicting better times ahead after NBC U was no longer a part of the company, saying that he expected to see “some real tailwind” for the larger org once the deal was complete.

In an email to staff, outgoing NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker congratulated his employees.

“Given that the economy, although improving, is still far from robust, these are excellent results,” Zucker said.

Zucker reiterated Immelt’s prediction that the Comcast deal would close by the end of the year, though he hedged slightly, saying that “timing will ultimately be determined by the FCC and the Dept. of Justice.”

The NBC U topper said he expects to have a clearer idea of when the deal will close in November.

Analysts are less certain than either Zucker or Immelt that Comcast and NBC U will get the government go-ahead by year’s end.

On Friday, Rebecca Arbogast, of finance firm Stifel Nicolaus, predicted to several outlets that the FCC’s requests for additional information would delay the closure of the deal until 2011.

There was good news for NBC U, however. Its high-performing properties included several cable nets: USA saw double-digit growth for the 17th straight quarter, Bravo and Oxygen both had their best quarters ever, and CNBC saw a 5% profit increase.

Sherin also pointed out “a great result with ‘Despicable Me,’ ” predicting a $500 million worldwide B.O. for the animated pic. The gain was offset by unnamed “smaller titles” that underperformed. It’s safe to say that some of those include the $60 million “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” the $32 million “Repo Men,” and the $10 million “MacGruber.”

Theme parks repped an unqualified win for the net — “the best quarter in its history,” according to Zucker — with attendance and per capita up double digits thanks to the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter park in Orlando and the King Kong: 360 3D attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Sherin also touted growth in the local ad market (other sources have said political ads are particularly strong this year), as well as ratings for the NFL and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

GE completed purchase of 7.7% of NBC Universal shares from Vivendi for $2 billion and completed an additional $5.1 billion debt offering in October to meet financing requirements for the NBC U-Comcast deal.

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