NBC pumps GE

Net chips in $536 mil to parent in 4th quarter

The Peacock once again helped pad the nest of parent company General Electric, delivering a healthy $536 million in profits to the bottom line for the fourth quarter of 2003, marking a healthy 14% gain on the same period last year.

Reporting the industrial conglom’s 2003 results Friday, GE chief Jeffrey Immelt credited huge gains at Bravo, improvements at biz net CNBC, a Telemundo ratings rebound and a strong fall season finish at the Peacock net for the unit’s strong outing.

NBC’s fourth-quarter revenues clocked in at $1.93 billion, up 7% over the prior year’s period.

Healthy start

For the first quarter of 2004, GE anticipates NBC will report sales up 5%-10% to around $1.6 billion, with profit gain ranging from 15%-20% (to an estimated $400 million) up over last year’s first quarter, which was hit by the war in Iraq.

Company said scatter pricing is up slightly over the upfront ad market last spring, while the early success of “The Apprentice” bodes well for spot sales.

Among the highlights at NBC, company cited its 18-49 rating victory in primetime this past fall, led by its aging “Friends” and “ER” along with new drama “Las Vegas” and reality series “Average Joe.” Network won the November primetime sweeps in adults 18-49 for the fourth straight year.

Also seeing big sales gains was a resurgent Bravo, which increased its primetime ratings more than 80% in adults 25-54 over 2002.

Company also noted slight improvement at Spanish-lingo net Telemundo, whose adult 18-49 ratings were up 33% over last year for total day.

Overall, GE reported fourth-quarter net earnings of $4.56 billion compared with $3.1 billion in the prior year, which was depressed by a pretax charge of $2.5 billion. Total sales in the quarter rose 4% to $37 billion.

Profits rise 3%

For full year 2003, GE profits were up 3% to $15.6 billion (before accounting changes) off revenues up barely 1% to $134.2 billion. But the market took heart at a more robust future in store from the economic bellwether company.

Immelt said GE is on track to generate 10% earnings growth in 2005, having missed its trademark double-digit growth target the last two years in a row. Net earnings for 2004 are expected to be flat, however.

GE stock Friday rose $1.35, 4.22%, to $33.35.

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