Cable giant Comcast is reportedly in talks to gain a controlling stake in General Electric's NBC Universal, in a deal that would help shape Comcast's online-content strategy and help NBC Universal keep pace amid the shifting market.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Comcast is hoping to form a privately held joint venture that would include NBC's media content. Comcast would control the venture with a 51 percent stake, and GE would own 49 percent of the new company.
Combined, the new jointly owned media company would own more than two dozen TV networks, including NBC, along with several cable stations, such as USA Network. Comcast already operates some of its own cable networks, such as E!, the Style Network, and G4. The new joint venture would also own NBC Universal studios, plus 10 local NBC TV affiliates in cities such as New York and San Diego.
This isn't the first time Comcast has gone looking for a big media company. Five years ago, the company tried to acquire Walt Disney for about $66 billion. In the years since that failed attempt, the media and video distribution landscape has changed dramatically.
Television networks are struggling to keep advertising revenues up, and movie studios are under pressure to prevent digital piracy from eating into their profits. Meanwhile, Comcast, which is facing more competition from phone companies and satellite providers in its TV business, is also trying to figure out how best to use the Internet to deliver video content.
Individual TV channels have been putting their own TV content online for consumers to access for some time. This initially troubled cable operators such as Comcast; they saw the free delivery of video content for which they pay a hefty price as a threat to their business.
NBC and News Corp., the owner of Fox, have made a splash with online service Hulu, which offers TV shows and some movies on demand. Other media conglomerates, including CNET News publisher CBS, have made similar moves.
Comcast, too, is starting to embrace online video, teaming up with media conglomerate Time Warner earlier this year to test a new service offered by Comcast called On Demand Online. The service allows Comcast cable customers to access some of Time Warner's most popular TV shows from its TNT and TBS networks at no additional charge. Its plan is to provide TV networks and movie studios a secure way to distribute their movies and TV shows to a wider audience via the Internet.
The Wall Street Journal said that talks between Comcast and GE could still fall apart. Comcast is looking to pay as little as it can up-front. And there is an issue about what to do with Vivendi, which has a 20 percent stake in NBC Universal.