Comcast finalizing deal for NBC Uni stake

Company ironing out details with parent General Electric

Comcast Corp., which reports its third-quarter earnings Wednesday, is in the homestretch in its negotiations for a deal with General Electric for a controlling 51% stake in NBC Universal.

If the process doesn't falter, an announcement is expected soon, but it's not likely this week as the two sides continue to iron out the complex agreement after due-diligence meetings and presentations by NBC Universal execs last week in New York.

One key hurdle is for GE and Vivendi to agree on a price for the latter's 20% stake in NBC Uni. The French firm hasn't shown its hand ahead of an annual window that starts Nov. 15 and allows it to decide to sell its stake, a prerequisite to a Comcast deal.

But those two have been in continuing talks, and an agreement could be reached even before the window opens. Vivendi is in no rush, though; its annual sales option runs through Dec. 10.

Analysts have pushed Vivendi to strike a deal.

"We would see a sale of NBCU as a positive move in crystallizing value (€3 billion-€4 billion, or $4.4 billion-$5.9 billion) and helping to reduce Vivendi's conglomerate structure," UBS analyst Polo Tang said Monday. "Importantly, in our opinion, it would also help ease balance-sheet concerns given Vivendi's M&A ambitions" in telecom firms in emerging markets.

The NBC Uni deal remains Comcast's to lose despite recurring chatter about possible counterbids. The Wall Street Journal, for example, reported that GE also has begun preliminary talks about a potential alternative deal with Journal owner News Corp., but experts see this as a negotiating ploy.

"We think it's an attractive set of assets, and we're taking a look at it," a News Corp. spokeswoman said Monday.

Comcast COO Steve Burke, chairman and CEO Brian Roberts' right-hand man, is expected to be a driving force behind the firm's content ambitions. Jeff Shell, who runs the company's programming businesses, also is seen as playing a key role.

Sources have said that NBC Uni president and CEO Jeff Zucker would remain in his post, but Comcast hasn't made anything official.