* Comcast CEO declines comment on "specific" deal talk
* Roberts says it's "prudent" to look at content deals
* To launch On Demand online by year-end for HBO subs
(Adds full quote, background, bylines)
By Poornima Gupta and Ian Sherr
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 20 Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O), the
largest U.S. cable operator, will look at all opportunities in the
content business, Chief Executive Brian Roberts said on Tuesday,
but he declined to comment on any specific situations.
Comcast has been widely reported to be in deal talks with
General Electric Co (GE.N) to buy a majority stake in NBC
Universal. The deal under consideration would combine Comcast's
cable network assets and $4 billion to $6 billion of cash with NBC
Universal to create a new and larger content company including TV
broadcast, cable networks, movie and theme park assets.
Comcast would have a 51 percent stake and GE would own the
rest of a company valued around $30 billion, according to people
close to the deal.
Speaking at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, Roberts
was positive about his company's interest in acquiring content
even as he declined to comment specifically when asked about talks
with GE about NBC.
"If there's an opportunity, whether it's the one you are
talking about or other, our philosophy is it's prudent to think
about it, look at it and beyond that we have to just wait and
see," said Roberts.
GE CEO Jeff Immelt was due to speak at the same event a couple
of hours after Roberts. It was not immediately clear if the
executives would meet to discuss the deal at the event.
Talks between the companies have been handled by advisors from
both sides including investment bankers. Comcast is also being
advised by former News Corp president Peter Chernin, according to
people familiar with the talks. [ID:nN19384934]
Even though GE owns 80 percent of NBC Universal, any deal
between Comcast and GE will depend on NBC Universal's current 20
percent owner Vivendi SA (VIV.PA) agreeing to sell its stake to GE
at an agreed price. Vivendi's annual option to sell its stake
comes up in a few weeks.
In 2004, Comcast CEO Roberts launched a hostile and audacious
$54 billion bid to buy Walt Disney (DIS.N), but ultimately failed.
Since then, investors have feared that the cable company would
make a similarly large and possibly value-depletive deal.
CONTENT AND HULU ARE KING
Some industry watchers believe that Comcast's reported
interest in NBC has been partly driven by a desire to have some
say in Hulu, the popular TV show website jointly owned by NBC,
News Corp (NWSA.O) and Walt Disney.
Cable companies are reportedly concerned that users might
start cutting their subscriptions if they can see their favorite
shows online for free.
Comcast has led an initiative called On Demand Online/TV
Everywhere which allows paying cable subscribers to watch their
shows on demand over the Web when they want.
The move is an attempt to preserve the long-standing
profitable cable TV business which generates revenue from cable
subscription fees and advertising.
Comcast is currently testing On Demand Online in 5,000 homes.
Roberts gave a demo of the service, saying delivering video over
the Internet is a "friend not foe."
He said Comcast will launch a full Web-based on-demand service
to Comcast customers who subscribe to HBO before the end of the
(Reporting by Poornima Gupta and Ian Sherr; Writing by Yinka
Adegoke; Editing by Richard Chang, Andre Grenon, Phil Berlowitz)