Strike doesn't dim GE's Q4



The bottom line at NBC Universal during the fourth quarter was not damaged by the writers strike, and the same should hold true this quarter.

Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of NBC Uni parent company General Electric, praised Jeff Zucker and his team for their preparation ahead the WGA strike that began Nov. 5. What's more, he hinted that Zucker, NBC Uni's CEO, is similarly preparing for an actors strike that could happen this year.

Immelt and other brass made their remarks during a Friday conference call announcing GE's fourth-quarter financial results.

NBC has been thriving, said GE vice chairman and CFO Keith Sherin, because the absence of writers has "allowed us to basically introduce new reality shows, and they're all off to a great start."

"There's a lot of discussion about the writers strike," Sherin said. "There was no noticeable impact in the fourth quarter. We do have fewer new shows, but we also got a lot lower cost."

NBC Uni's profit rose 10% in the fourth quarter, marking the company's fifth straight quarter of earnings growth and its first double-digit gain in more than two years. GE's entertainment arm saw a 6% profit gain to $3.1 billion for all of 2007.

"NBC Universal has great momentum," Immelt said, highlighting that the film operation had strong global growth and its best year ever. And Sherin said management was "thrilled" over the double-digit profit growth at NBC Uni in the latest period.

NBC Uni posted a profit of $923 million for the fourth quarter, up 9.8% compared with a year ago. Revenue climbed 8% to $4.55 billion.

Boosting the latest quarterly results at NBC Uni were strong cable channels and film studio figures, as well as lower costs that were a result of the strike.

Importantly, "the network results were up in the fourth quarter and that's because our TV content revenue from monetizing our programming more than made up for the ratings pressure," Sherin added.

GE's overall fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations rose faster than NBC Uni's bottom line, ending up 15% at $6.8 billion as revenue increased 18% to $48.6 billion.

For the full year, NBC Uni's gains also underperformed GE's total. The entertainment unit's profit gain came despite a 5% revenue decline to $15.4 billion. GE's full-year profit of $22.5 billion was up 16% as revenue grew 14% to $173 billion.

At Universal, fourth-quarter revenue rose 16% thanks to strong theatrical and DVD releases. At the cable networks, fourth-quarter operating profit rose 23% on a revenue increase of 14%. The company cited continued ratings strength at USA, Bravo and Sci Fi Channel, and news channels MSNBC and CNBC saw double-digit ratings increases.

Georg Szalai reported from New York; Paul Bond reported from Los Angeles.