'Turnaround' at NBC Uni fuels GE's Q4


NEW YORK -- A turnaround at entertainment arm NBC Universal and its NBC network helped General Electric post improved fourth-quarter financials Friday.

NBC Uni said it boosted its quarterly revenue 1% year-over-year to $4.2 billion and grew its profit 5% to $841 million -- its first profit increase in a year.

"NBC Universal's turnaround is advancing," GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said. He added later that he felt the improvements at the unit are "on track."

For the current first quarter, GE projected that NBC Uni will see its profit stay flat or grow up to 5% over the same period last year despite a revenue decline of about 20% because of tough comparisons with last year's Winter Olympics on NBC. Excluding the Olympics, revenue should be pretty much unchanged year-over-year, GE chief financial officer Keith Sherin said.

In the fourth quarter, NBC Uni "turned positive" even though financials fell slightly below projections, Sherin said.

He lauded a film operating profit jump of 79%, thanks in part to lower marketing costs compared with the year-ago release of "King Kong." However, a slightly weaker-than-expected film performance made NBC Uni slightly underperform expectations for the quarter.

Discussing the NBC network, the GE finance chief said "we're making real progress" in primetime, where ratings are up 16%. "We love 'Heroes,' " Sherin said about NBC's new hit drama, adding that NFL broadcasts also have been "a key driver" of success.

Sherin also lauded NBC Uni's cable networks division, where operating profit rose 10%. "Our entertainment cable (channels) had a great quarter and year," he said, highlighting that USA Network and Bravo had their best years ever in 2006.

He also raved about NBC Uni's strength in news and information, with NBC's "Today" and "Nightly News" ranked No. 1, and CNBC business day ratings up 65% in the fourth quarter.

For full-year 2006, NBC Uni reported a 10% revenue gain to $16.2 billion, but profit fell 6% to $2.9 billion.

GE's fourth-quarter profit from continuing operations increased from $5.9 billion to $6.6 billion. Revenue rose 11% to $44.6 billion.

The conglomerate on Friday also restated results for 2001-05 and the first three quarters of 2006 after a previously unveiled U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission review into its accounting for derivatives for interest rate swaps.

The restatement slightly boosted full-year earnings per share, while reducing total earnings $343 million for the 2001-06 period.

GE shares fell 2.8% on Friday to $36.95.