Updated: Comcast Mum on NBCU Purchase

Investors hoping for some insight into Comcast’s ongoing negotiations to purchase a majority stake in NBC Universal were stymied Wednesday, as the cable giant declined comment on the matter.

At the top of the company’s third-quarter earnings call, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts played it close to the vest, saying only, “While we can’t comment on rumors, I’d like to reinforce that we will only look at opportunities … that can accelerate growth. We will continue to have a very disciplined approach as we evaluate these opportunities.”

Comcast is looking to acquire 51 percent ownership of NBCU in a deal that would see it ponying up as much as $6 billion in cash and its own clutch of cable networks. GE in turn would hold onto the remaining interest in NBCU, contributing around $12 billion in debt to the spin-off.

At present, GE holds an 80 percent stake in NBCU, with French media conglomerate Vivendi laying claim to 20 percent.

Comcast posted a 22 percent gain in third-quarter earnings, reporting net income of $944 million, or 33 cents a share, versus a year-ago tally of $771 million, or 26 cents a share.

In the three-month period ended Sept. 30, Comcast took in $8.8 billion in consolidated net revenue, an increase of 3 percent from the third quarter of 2008.

Free cash flow rose 20 percent to $1.11 billion, while operating cash flow grew 3 percent to $3.33 billion.

Revenue from the core cable operations segment increased 3 percent to $8.36 billion, reflecting continued growth in high-speed Internet, telephony and business services. Comcast noted that the gain was offset partially by a 16 percent decline in local advertising revenue. In Q2 ‘09, local ad sales fell 20 percent versus the year-ago period.

Excluding political spend, local ad sales fell 10 percent in the quarter. Looking ahead, year-to-year comparisons will continue to be skewed by Comcast’s Q4 ‘08 political business. In the final quarter of last year, the company took in $78 million in local political dollars.

Comcast’s 8-K filing with the Securities Exchange Commission reported that the programming segment, which includes the basic-cable networks E!, Style Network, Golf Channel, G4 and Versus, saw overall revenue gains of 10.3 percent to $383 million on higher affiliate and advertising revenue.

Comcast chief financial officer Michael Angelakis said the networks increased ad sales revenue 8 percent in the quarter. Upon factoring in adjustments for ratings guarantees, ad sales revenue was flat versus the year-ago period. In Q2, Comcast’s national ad sales revenue dropped 7 percent.

Affiliate revenue grew 9 percent versus the third quarter of 2008.