Vivendi Postpones Decision On NBCU: Report - Broadcasting & Cable

Vivendi Postpones Decision On NBCU: Report

Industry speculates on staff choices should a deal occur
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Vivendi has postponed a decision on whether it will sell its $6 billion stake in NBC Universal, according to a Bloomberg report which cites a person familiar with talks. The report out Thursday (Oct. 15), said the Vivendi board had deferred a decision at its meeting on October 14. Vivendi is instead focusing on its bid for Brazilian phone giant GVT.

Vivendi's bid was topped last week by rival phone company Telefonica. Bloomberg quotes Alexander Wisch, an analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Research in London as saying, "the next step will be to say whether they're going to go for GVT or not, and that's going to be connected to NBCU." If Vivendi does make a counter bid then there's a stronger likelihood it will dump its 20% stake in NBC Universal, which has been described as "non-core," in order to raise the money.

Vivendi does not have to make its decision on the stake sale known until a period between mid-November and early December when it has an annual option to sell its NBC Universal stake. General Electric which owns the other 80% of NBC Universal will report third quarter results Friday, October 16. Investors are expecting to hear more from GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt on talks with cable giant Comcast. The two plan to create a new combined venture should Vivendi sell out, as is widely expected.

Talks have centered around Comcast gaining a 51% slice of the new company which would comprise NBC Universal plus Comcast's programming assets. Many are speculating that Comcast's management team will be the bigger role in whatever entity moves forward. While conflicting reports surfaced this week over what future NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker might have if NBC Universal comes under Comcast ownership, others are more focused what happens to secondary management tiers. "It's going to be the Jeff Shell-Dave Cassaro show," said one senior industry figure referring to Comcast's president of programming and president of ad sales. Others see a wider role for Shell's number two West Coast-based entertainment programming chief Ted Harbert.

NBC Universal of course also has an unrivalled programming team headed by Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal entertainment; Bonnie Hammer, NBC Universal cable entertainment president and Lauren Zalaznick, who is president of lifestyle entertainment. On the ad sales side, some wonder if popular NBCU president sales, Mike Pilot, might return to GE where he was previously president of equipment finance. Others suggest there will likely be a melding of the two teams if a deal is done.

Separately, Bernstein Research sees several positives for Comcast out of this deal. Not least is the ability to shape VOD and online viewing models as viewing shifts from linear TV. Such a deal might also provide a buffer to the retransmission deals it is likely to have to pay broadcasters in the future. On the flip side, Bernstein Research believes there are significant regulatory hurdles for Comcast to cross that could make such a vertical integration less of a positive.

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