Comcast Corp. said Wednesday night that it was looking to bolster its stable of entertainment properties, but it denied rumors that it had reached a deal to buy NBC Universal Inc., a division of General Electric Co., for $35 billion.
The reports, from a Hollywood Web site, were denied by Comcast senior vice president D'Arcy Rudnay as "inaccurate," but she said: "We are looking for content."
Comcast chief operating officer Stephen Burke said at an investors' conference last month that Comcast could be interested in a deal for an entertainment programmer. He noted, though, that the Philadelphia company would not likely do a monster acquisition.
"I don't think that means doing a big deal with our stock," Burke said, according to the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable. "I also don't think that means doing a big $50 billion acquisition. I think it's more trying to find opportunities that are complementary with our core business."
Comcast has a market capitalization of about $45 billion.
NBC Universal encompasses NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, USA, Bravo, Universal Pictures, and theme parks. It has been considered in play for several years.
Top GE executives have denied they are interested in selling the company, but growth in the media division has slowed and seems threatened by online competitors.
Vivendi, a French conglomerate, owns a 20 percent stake in NBC Universal. Each year, Vivendi is allowed to exercise an option to sell that stake, either in the public market or to GE.
The option opens up every November, which, along with comments from Vivendi chief executive officer Jean-Bernard Levy that he plans eventually to sell the NBC Universal holding, has fueled talk that Vivendi could sell the stake this year.
The option was part of a deal made in 2003 when Vivendi sold its theme parks and television assets in the United States to GE for cash and stock.
Comcast, which has about 24 million cable TV customers and is one of the largest buyers of Hollywood content, owns regional sports networks, the E! entertainment channel, the Versus national sports network, and the Golf Channel, among others.
The Philadelphia cable company tried to buy the Walt Disney Co. earlier this decade. TheWrap.com Web site reported speculation of a potential Comcast bid for NBC Universal last night.
Some Wall Street analysts also say they believe that Comcast could buy a major cable operator, such as Time Warner Cable Inc. or Cablevision Systems Corp., to boost its cable TV subscriber base, which has been losing customers to Verizon Communications Inc.'s FiOS TV and satellite operator DirecTV.
A federal court recently ruled that a 30 percent market cap on Comcast in the cable market, imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, was illegal. The court decision seemed to make possible the purchase of a cable operator, such as Time Warner Cable or Cablevision, by Comcast.