NBC completed its deal to merge with the Universal entertainment businesses Wednesday, creating a new media conglomerate that will take its place alongside giants such as Time Warner Inc. and Viacom Inc. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)
The new company, to be known as NBC Universal, will be led mainly by NBC executives including Bob Wright, the NBC chairman who will become its chairman and CEO. Wright will also continue as vice chairman of General Electric Co., NBC’s parent company.
The deal brings together television’s top-rated network among the 18-49 age group, which advertisers try hardest to reach; a major movie studio; a television production studio; a handful of cable TV channels including USA, Sci-Fi, CNBC and Bravo; and a group of 29 television stations.
Wright said the combination presented a “tremendous growth opportunity for our viewers, advertisers, employees, and GE shareowners.”
While not as diverse or large as some of the other major conglomerates, NBC Universal will own several top-quality properties, not least of which is the powerful “Law & Order” franchise, a cash cow for NBC which is produced by Universal’s television arm.
Before the deal, NBC had been the only major television network that wasn’t part of a larger media conglomerate with its own major production studio. Now that it has one, NBC is not only assured of more future shows in the pipeline but it will also have more bargaining power in negotiating for shows of its own.
“They all have mutually assured destruction,” says Tom Wolzien, a media analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein and a former NBC executive. “They all buy and sell to each other. NBC’s been on top for a long time, but if it goes into the pits like ABC did, it will still have product.”
GE will own 80 percent of NBC Universal, while the French media and telecommunications conglomerate Vivendi Universal will own the remaining 20 percent. Vivendi is also getting $3.4 billion in cash in the deal, and GE is assuming $1.7 billion in debt from Vivendi.
The company would have had about $13 billion in revenues had it been combined last year, well behind Time Warner, which had $40 billion in revenues last year. However, as a unit of the massive GE, NBC Universal will have an extremely powerful corporate parent.
Ron Meyer, the head of Universal Studios, will remain at the company as head of the Hollywood studio as well as its associated theme parks.
Vivendi Universal had been looking to unload the Universal entertainment businesses as a way to pay down debt and streamline its structure, undoing an acquisition spree by ousted chief executive Jean-Marie Messier that nearly left the company bankrupt. Vivendi still owns the Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company.