NEW YORK News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and Liberty Media chairman John Malone separately expressed interest Friday in a deal with NBC Universal, but confirmed no talks are currently being held with General Electric.
The comments coincided with GE posting a 44 percent decline in its third-quarter profit Friday as its NBCU entertainment arm outperformed on the bottom line with a 13 percent profit improvement over the year-ago period.
GE has been preparing its options for a possible exit from NBCU over time in case Vivendi decides in the coming weeks to sell its 20 percent stake in the entertainment firm.
It has negotiated the outlines of a deal that would see Comcast merge its content assets with NBCU and take a 51 percent stake in the merged entity.
Malone told investors and reporters Friday morning that the Comcast approach has been handled smartly and that he would consider some sort of play for NBCU, too. He didn't provide details. However, he emphasized that GE isn't running an auction that would open up the process to talks with possible other suitors.
Malone spoke informally ahead of Liberty's annual investors' meeting here. His comments confirmed the wide-held belief on Wall Street that Liberty will be waiting in the wings in case the Comcast deal falls through and an opportunity opens up.
Meanwhile, News Corp. will take a look at NBCU, but is also not in deal talks for the entertainment firm, Murdoch said at his conglomerate's annual shareholder meeting across town in midtown Manhattan.
"We'll certainly have a look at the deal" like always in the case of potential acquisitions, Murdoch said. However, "we're in no negotiations."
Asked if a Comcast acquisition of a majority stake in NBCU would hurt News Corp., he said: "No, we don't see it affecting us -- certainly not in a detrimental way."
NBCU's third-quarter profit gain came despite a 20 percent revenue decline. The entertainment firm's profit amounted to $732 million on revenue of $4 billion. GE's quarterly profit fell to $2.4 billion, dragged down by woes at its GE Capital unit.
Also at the meeting Friday were president, COO and vice chairman Chase Carey, as well as James Murdoch and brother Lachlan.
It was a more intimate gathering of only around 50 people, including News Corp. staffers.
Nielsen Business Media