Relief in Philadelpia? NBCU profit up 13 percent

NBC Universal’s quarterly results — still wrapped into the General Electric numbers — should have some of the folks down in Philadelphia smiling this weekend. The numbers didn’t set the world on fire, but both profit and revenue showed improvement thanks to (what else) the cable division.

Overall, NBCU’s quarterly profit rose 13 percent to $607 million. Revenue climbed 5 percent to $3.75 billion.

Keith Sherin, GE’s finance chief, credited Jeff Zucker with delivering what he called “a strong performance” and said the regulatory review of the sale to Comcast “is progressing as expected.”

A closer look at NBCU’s numbers showed cable revenue rose 7 percent, fueled by USA, Bravo, Oxygen and CNBC, compared to broadcast revenue that was only up by 1 percent (hardly a surprise to Comcast, one would imagine).

“You know, the ratings are down in the summer for all the networks, but we were off to a pretty good start,” Sherin said on a conference call with analysts. “We’ve got the number-one show with ‘America’s Got Talent.’ The development that we have invested in was well received and probably one of the biggest highlights in the quarter was the upfront.”

Comcast, NBC Universal pledge support for local news

Comcast has finally unveiled its formal announcement that it plans to take control of NBC Universal from General Electric. Public interest groups and various U.S. government types have been tutting and clucking over whether this media mega-deal would be against the national interest, and few doubt that Congress and the administration will want to review this plan in loving detail.

To that extent, Comcast released a memo on Thursday outlining its public commitments. There are a bunch in here, but this old-school journalist wants to point out above all else that the company said it’s committed to preserving and enriching “the output of local news, local public affairs and other public interest programming on NBC O&O (“owned and operated”) stations.”

That’s a mighty strong commitment to make. Let’s hope that it doesn’t do what many radio and TV stations have done for years to satisfy their government-mandated public interest requirements and stick all that stuff on the air at 5 a.m. Sunday morning. Also, how much more money will they provide?

Comcast’s Brian Roberts at Web 2.0 (video)

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts took time out from strategizing over his company’s reported bid to buy NBC Universal to speak at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. As expected, Roberts declined to comment on any ”specific” deals including NBC. But he did indicate as he has done in the past that content will be an important part of his company’s future and that it is always “prudent” to take a look at opportunities as they come up.

While he remained on message (or is that off message?), Jeff Immelt, his counterpart at NBC Universal’s parent General Electric, was a little more forthcoming, saying the company is considering its options for NBC Universal which could include keeping it.

In this 43 minute interview, Roberts also talked on a range of other topics including the importance of building faster Internet services and gave a demostration of his company’s On Demand Online service which he said will be launching nationally before the end of the year.

Sun Valley: Grand theft auto

Allen & Co’s annual Sun Valley media conference is all about deals, the Internet, media and technology, but it’s good for a few laughs as well.

Here’s the first one:

We’re waiting for various executives and moguls to show up at the entrance to the Sun Valley Lodge. It’s a gorgeous day, and we’re talking to folks as they arrive. Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, arrives in an SUV. Right after him comes Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer.

They both go and check in. Meyer comes out first, gets in Johnson’s car and drives away.

Is NBC Universal worth $30 billion?

French conglomerate Vivendi this week joined a long list of media and entertainment companies that have been forced to write down their book values after suffering a sharp drop in advertising revenue and tumbling share prices, with no immediate turnaround visible on the horizon.

But what caught our eye was a new valuation for NBC Universal implied in the writedown. Vivendi said in its results report that it took 1.503 billion euros off the value of its 20 percent stake in NBC Universal. It didn’t say what the stake was now worth, so we asked our colleague in Paris to check with the company. A Vivendi spokesman said it wrote the NBC stake to around $6 billion in 2008 accounts. By our math, that would value NBC Universal at about $30 billion.

So is NBCU worth $30 billion? What would the TV network, movie studio and theme park owner fetch on the market if GE/Vivendi ever put it up for sale? We’ll leave you to decide, but here’s a graph of the financials for some of the biggest U.S. media companies for comparison.

Hulu would love to expand — you know, sometime

Hulu is going global. Maybe.

The video website owned by News Corp and NBC Universal is apparently thinking of expanding to Britain, France, Germany and Japan. But don’t get too excited. Peter Smith, president of NBC Universal International, told a conference that while Hulu would love to push out its boundaries, there aren’t yet any concrete plans.

He didn’t say this, but it seems that given what’s happening with the global economy, this may not be the best time to expand a service that depends on advertising revenue. Speaking of which…

The Financial Times has a story out today that suggests Hulu could match Google’s YouTube in US revenue next year. The article cites Screen Digest, and certainly other researchers may disagree. Still, it’s interesting that Screen Digest figures both online video cites will bring in about $180 million. Should we interpret this as a Hulu success? Or a YouTube failure?