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Comcast aims to reshape market

Associated Press / December 4, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA - Comcast Corp. said yesterday it plans to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal for $13.75 billion, giving the nation’s largest cable TV operator control of the Peacock network, an array of cable channels, and a major movie studio.

Although the deal could mean that movies could reach cable more quickly after showing in theaters and that TV shows could appear faster on cellphones and other devices, it was raising concerns that Comcast would wield too much power over entertainment.

Indeed, if the deal clears regulatory and other hurdles, Comcast would rival the heft of the Walt Disney Co. - which Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts already tried to buy.

Comcast, which already serves a quarter of all US households that pay for television, would gain control of the NBC broadcast network, the Spanish-language Telemundo, and about two dozen cable channels, including USA, Bravo, and Syfy. It also would have regional sports networks, Universal Pictures, and theme parks.

The deal is a major turning point for Comcast, catapulting the Philadelphia-based company to a media conglomerate and above the pack of cable operators that run regional cable systems.

“Does the world ever stand still?’’ Roberts said. Bringing NBC Universal into the Comcast family is “pro-consumer’’ and would allow the company to more quickly deliver “what consumers want, which is access to all different types of content on different platforms and different times.’’

In agreeing to buy 51 percent of NBC Universal from General Electric Co., which has controlled NBC since 1986, Comcast hopes to succeed in marrying distribution and content in a way Time Warner Inc. could not. AOL and Time Warner are undoing their ill-fated marriage Dec. 9.

Shares of Comcast rose 96 cents, or 6.4 percent, to $15.90 yesterday, as the company also announced a dividend increase. GE rose by 21 cents to $16.28.

Comcast’s Roberts and GE chief executive Jeffrey R. Immelt have been discussing the deal for months, and the final weeks came down to GE’s persuading French conglomerate Vivendi SA to first sell its minority stake.

Comcast made the deal because it is eager to diversify. It faces encroaching threats from online video and more aggressive competition from satellite and phone companies.