Murdoch, Malone express interest in NBCU

Moguls confirm no talks have been held with GE

NEW YORK -- News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and Liberty Media chairman John Malone separately expressed basic interest Friday in looking at a possible deal with NBC Universal, but confirmed no talks are currently being held with General Electric.

The comments confirmed that the moguls are doing some basic tire-kicking, but not more for now. They coincided with GE posting a 44% decline in its third-quarter profit Friday as its NBC Universal entertainment arm outperformed on the bottom line with a 13% profit improvement over the year-ago period.

GE has been preparing its options for a possible exit from NBC Uni over time in case Vivendi decides in the coming weeks to sell its 20% stake in the entertainment firm.

It has negotiated the outlines of a deal that would see Comcast merge its content assets with NBC Uni and take a 51% 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 NBC Uni, 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 NBC Uni, 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 NBC Uni would hurt News Corp., he said: "No, we don't see it affecting us -- certainly not in a detrimental way."

NBC Uni's third-quarter profit gain came despite a 20% 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 about 50 people, including News Corp. staffers.