DealZone

Comcast: the antitrust sequel and the M&A trilogy

If you were all twitchy with anticipation about Comcast’s NBC Universal deal, just wait for parts two and three! The gathering storm over the merger in Washington and other political power points not only promises to be more riveting, but the rights to part three are already being sold to a wave of media mergers hanging on the outcome.

As Anupreeta Das reports, media dealmaking could pick up if regulators impose minimal conditions on the NBC Universal transaction. But U.S. regulatory scrutiny is expected to be heavy, and the deal could take more than a year to be cleared. The LegalTimes blog notes that even the beauty contest among regulators hoping to oversee the process promises to have many twists and turns.

That might sound like a long wait, but it’s not likely to stop M&A lawyers from booking lunches and logging hours to get the balls in place to roll if the deal goes through. That kind or pressure could also work its way behind the scenes in Washington, where lobbyists will be armed with the argument that the merger will save capitalism as we know it by reigniting the dealmaking powderkeg of the early part of this century.

No longer just a dumb pipe

Comcast’s deal to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric should put to rest fears at the cable operator that King Content will kill its business. But even if it becomes a thoroughfare of programming genius, the new venture will still have to convince a skeptical marketplace. The train wreck of Time Warner-AOL threw the idea of new media into financial purgatory.

Just how the venture will wring savings from its disparate businesses and avoid suffocating regulatory scrutiny are issues that could also create Comcastic headaches.  Robert MacMillan points out on our Mediafile blog, with a sensible dose of skepticism, that the new venture is affirming its commitment to local news, in effect, promising to keep the garden hoses pumping even as it primes for a media gusher with big-ticket programming.

Still, while making a new media juggernaut could still turn out to be a pipe dream, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts (pictured above) cannot be faulted for allowing his company to get stuck in a dumb pipe nightmare.

Comcast, GE and Kraft await Europe’s pleasure

The defining deals of the week, Kraft’s now officially hostile bid for Cadbury and a deal to sell a majority stake in NBC Universal to Comcast, hinge on decisions of Europe Inc, so they could well drag on many more weeks.

This morning, Kraft formally bid for Cadbury with the same offer mooted two months ago, before today’s put-up-or-shut-up deadline. Cadbury has already said no to these terms, and can be expected to do so again. But the sinking expectations that Kraft might pay more, and the lack of any other buyers coming forward, don’t help to make the case for a successful hold out by Cadbury executives.

Over the weekend we learned that GE and Comcast agreed on a valuation of around $30 billion for a joint venture between NBC Universal and Comcast, ironing out what has been a key obstacle in talks so far. But French media conglomerate Vivendi, which owns 20 percent of NBC Universal, has not yet agreed to a deal, a source said.

The Playgrounds of Private Equity

Blackstone Group’s plan to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev’s U.S. theme parks for up to $2.7 billion may turn out to be a brilliant expansion into the recession-squelched entertainment industry. But it could also prove to be a roller coaster in terms of value if Americans don’t rediscover fun as part of the economic recovery.

For its part, AB InBev at least has a product that can sell equally well when people are depressed. The deal helps to satisfy its goal of raising $7 billion from divestments.

The theme park deal is one of the largest private equity transactions this year. It will add Busch Entertainment Corp’s 10 parks — including three SeaWorlds and two Busch Gardens — to Blackstone’s existing fun stable housing Madame Tussauds wax museums, Legoland and the London Eye Ferris wheel. mumblings about anti-trust issues, the private equity entertainment empire is active in a buyers market. Some say NBC Universal’s theme park could soon wind up on the block if GE sells content assets to Comcast.