Zucker Mum on Vivendi
But Says NBCU Would Expand With The Right Deal
Mike Farrell 9/15/2009 4:17:38 PM EDT

New York ó NBC Universal chairman Jeff Zucker wouldn't talk about the possibility of restructuring the NBCU partnership with Vivendi, but added that the broadcast and cable giant would re-enter the M&A fray if the opportunity arises.

Zucker, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference here Tuesday, would not comment on speculation that Vivendi would either sell or otherwise try to restructure its 20% interest in NBCU. As part of the five-year-old deal that brought NBC into the cable business, Vivendi has the right to sell its stake in the venture each November, giving NBC the option of buying the stake itself, taking on a new partner, or proceeding with an initial public offering of the Vivendi share. In a conference call with analysts last month, Vivendi chairman Jean-Bernard Levy had said he considers the NBCU stake to be a non-core asset.

"Obviously Vivendi has been a fantastic partner," Zucker said. "They've been clear that at some point they will do something. That is up to Vivendi on their timeline, on their time table. I can't speak for them."

Zucker added that the creation of NBCU has been a key strategic move for both companies and that NBCU would look to add to that portfolio if a sensible deal surfaced.

"NBC Universal at its core is a cable company," Zucker said. "It took the strength and scale of NBC's broadcast business to help redefine those cable networks... We know how to run cable networks; it's really the heart of this company today. If there is an opportunity to increase our cable footprint, that is something we would look at."

But in the next breath, Zucker said that he does not see any particularly gaping holes in its network portfolio.
"We are incredibly strong on entertainment and news side, with CNBC, MSNBC and Weather on news, USA, SyFy and Oxygen and several other smaller networks on the entertainment side," Zucker said. "We feel well-positioned. We'd look to expand on either side, but I don't think there is a hole there."