General Electric on Tuesday outlined its options for ownership of NBC Universal if Vivendi decides to exercise its annual option to sell its 20% stake.
Amid suggestions from several financial sources that GE is preparing for major changes and is already sounding out the market, GE spokeswoman Anne Eisele told Broadcasting & Cable, "As you know, Vivendi has an annual option, exercisable later this year, to sell its stake in NBCU in the public market. If Vivendi determines to exercise its option, GE has several options, including bringing a new partner into NBCU, proceeding with an IPO or buying Vivendi's stake."
The statement comes on the heels of a report from JP Morgan suggesting that NBCU could be worth between $30 billion to $35 billion.
Vivendi's option to sell comes due for a period between mid to late November and December. In 2008 the company said it would hold on to the stake for at least another year; back then it had to write down the value of the asset, which had lost around half of the $44 billion in value since the two firms got together in 2004.
In the light of current conditions-and given the positive reception that Disney received for its $4-billion acquisition of Marvel last week-finally selling off its stake is a plausible option for Vivendi. By the same token, buying the company outright is also an option.
GE regularly answers questions about the Vivendi stake around this time but has rarely gone into detail about its future plans for NBCU should Vivendi decide to sell. A whole host of corporate names have been suggested as potentially buyers, including Time Warner and Comcast. Some have even floated IAC/InterActiveCorp (IAC chief Barry Diller owned a portion of Universal at the time of its merger with NBC). Other possible interested parties might include Liberty Media, Google or Microsoft.
One highly placed Wall Street executive said: "It may not be a strategic sale, it may be a public offering, but no decision has been made." One analyst, who did not wish to be named, said GE has already begun circulating proposal documents: "Talk to people in the media banking community; there is a book out on NBCU."
A spokeswoman for Vivendi declined to comment on the company's future plan with regard to its stake but confirmed that the option date comes due in November.