Comcast-NBCU: Oh, the Drama!
It’s been two months since news broke that Comcast and General Electric were in talks about turning G.E.’s NBC Universal unit into a new joint venture. And as we wait for word that the deal nearly everyone has pronounced inevitable has indeed been done, let’s take a moment to observe how much this M&A has played out like a marriage plot in a novel or stage farce: We know the happy couple will be together in the end, but not before the sacred union is nearly derailed by all manner of shenanigans.
The deal has languished so long in the media spotlight, with so many details picked over in the press. (As Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman observed last week, “I have never seen such a big transaction with so much leakage.”) And in that time, a whole cast of corporate characters has paraded through, starting with the principals, G.E.’s Jeff Immelt and Comcast’s Brian Roberts, a would-be spoiler in Vivendi’s Jean-Bernard Levy and lots of cameos from other media players.
There’s two former News Corp. executives, Peter Chernin and Peter Liguori, were tapped to provide advice. There’s Mark Penn, the high level market positioning expert who guided Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and will no doubt be on hand for more curtain calls.
And let’s not forget Liberty Media Chairman John Malone, who appeared on CNBC Nov. 23 to discuss the deal and complain that G.E. didn’t want to talk to him. Wall Street players suggest the cable pioneer was passed over because he’s got no cash. But Malone, who predicted the outcome of the deal depended greatly on the potential regulatory constraints, is seen as a likely spoiler in Washington.
And he’s raised some intriguing issues in this months long odyssey that may not wind down until December 10, when Vivendi’s option to sell closes. Vivendi is still suggesting an IPO is an option. One financial executive doubted that likelihood, describing it as a “sh*t show” for all involved. And as Malone suggested in his CNBC interview, NBC’s station affiliates may have some sway in blocking the deal.
Even Sirius XM radio chief and former Viacom COO Mel Karmazin appeared to throw his cap in the ring for a potential position with the new entity, all while insisting he’d never leave his current job. And then there have been contradictory reports about whether NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker will be staying or going. As of now, he’s staying–at least until he’s going.
But leave it to the NBCU folks to provide the comic relief as they wait for a deal to decide their fate (and ultimately remake the media landscape in the process). 30 Rock creator and star Tina Fey poked fun at Immelt at a recent Ad Council dinner last week, asking, “Will I have to change the name of my show from ‘30 Rock’ to ‘Industrial Park Along the Schuylkill River?’”
Even Zucker couldn’t resist a bit of gallows humor at the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, when he began his induction speech saying, “I want to thank Brian Roberts for everything he’s done for my career–oh, wait, that’s next month’s dinner.”
Sorry, Jeff–looks like we’ll all have to wait a bit longer.