NBC Uni b'cast, film units a drag for GE first quarter

But cable networks a bright spot

NBC Universal "continues its turnaround" and "is rebounding."

Other than those phrases being uttered several times Friday as General Electric reported quarterly earnings, NBC Universal was hardly discussed as GE touted its booming infrastructure business of jet engines, heavy equipment and the like.

Revenue at NBC Universal fell 22% during the quarter ending March 31 to $3.5 billion, while profit advanced 6% to $691 million, largely on strength from cable channels CNBC and USA Network.

GE largely blamed the revenue drop on tough comparisons because of the broadcasts of the Olympics in first-quarter 2006, though even adjusting for the $700 million in Olympics revenue, revenue at NBC Universal would be down 8% year-over-year, GE CFO Keith Sherin said.

Movies for the quarter were down 26%, which Sherin said was a result again of tough comparisons because NBC Uni sold 15 million copies of the "King Kong" DVD in the year-ago quarter.

"This year across the entire business, with the slates that we had in the fourth quarter, we only had about half of that volume in DVDs," Sherin said.

NBC Uni, led by Jeff Zucker since February, when he was named president and CEO, has been a bit of a drag for GE of late as the NBC broadcast network has fallen to fourth place despite hits like "Heroes" and critically acclaimed shows like "Friday Night Lights."

"If you look at segment profit, up 6%, this is a turnaround story," said Sherin, who added that prime ratings figures at NBC are flat.

Despite the problems, Sherin said: "We have a terrific business model going on here. We have got a lot of content ownership of the existing schedule, and we are looking at the fall pilots, and we have got even more content ownership of that."

USA is No. 1 in basic cable, Bravo's primetime ratings are up 18%, and CNBC business-day ratings have surged 69%, he said.

He said the second half of the year looks pretty good for NBC Uni, touting this quarter's upcoming film releases "Evan Almighty" and "Knocked Up."

"We have a pretty good DVD outlook based on the first-quarter releases and the relative comparison to last year," he added.

He forecasted that NBC Uni will show second-quarter revenue up 0%-5% and profit up 0%-5%.

On the whole, GE reported $40.2 billion in revenue, up 6% from the same quarter a year ago, with earnings up 8% to $4.5 billion, matching Wall Street's expectations.

Shares of GE, the second-biggest company in the world after Exxon Mobil, were up fractionally Friday to $35.38.
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