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Is Comcast buying Universal?

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Published: September 30, 2009 at 7:55 PM

Reports are flying that cable TV giant Comcast might have a deal to buy NBC Universal from GE. You might remember Comcast making a play for Disney five years ago, in the dying days of the Eisner regime. Comcast is denying a deal is in place, though.

All the talk to date focuses on how Comcast's cable systems would mesh with NBCU's cable networks. And Universal's film library. But no one's talking about the theme parks yet.

Having made a play for Disney before, surely someone at Comcast has done some research about the industry. When NBC bought Universal from Vivendi a few years back (Vivendi retains a 20% stake in NBCU), early talk from NBC was that it would rid itself of the parks ASAP. But Universal park execs made a strong case to their new bosses, showing them what cash cows and promotional vehicles they can be, and NBCU's been pretty much a happy owner of the parks every since.

With InBev still trying to find a buyer for its Busch Gardens and SeaWorld parks, now would seem a lousy time to be selling any parks. And let's not forget that the Busch theme parks' rumored suitor, Blackstone Group, is now a 50% stakeholder in... (say it with me now) Universal Orlando.

Update: This is the open thread for any additional breaking news overnight. (Remember, we have an earlier thread today about the monorail situation at Disney World, so post there with any new info on that.)

I'll be on a plane between LAX and SFO early in the AM, so I might be offline for part of the morning, depending on whether I can get WiFi on my flight. Be good, and I'll be back soon.

Readers' Opinions

From 64.207.61.230 on October 1, 2009 at 6:25 AM
Universal is staring at an enormous debt load and could have their hand forced into selling if Comcast is giving them a serious offer.

Busch-Inbev does not have a gun to its head and will only sell its parks at a strong valuation (read: 3.5+ billion).

Also Blackstone may be interested in exiting the Universal investment so it can get out of the non-compete so that it can buy Busch Entertainment and roll it in with Merlin

Currently Blackstone and any Blackstone affiliate cannot have interest in another Florida theme park without permission from Universal/Vivendi (per the Loan Docs). The only way for Blackstone to get out of this agreement (other than refinancing or a sale) is to pay Universal a large fee for waiving that clause.

From David Graham on October 1, 2009 at 8:40 AM
Part of the open thread... Today Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971, so Happy Birthday WDW.
From TH Creative on October 1, 2009 at 4:47 PM
"dying days of the Eisner regime?!"

Please!

In his final months he fought off Comcast (better yet, make that LAUGHED OFF Comcast); he told Steve Jobs (Pixar) "if you can find a better horse, then go with it" (of course Jobs couldn't); and he hand picked his successor (Robert Iger).

And let's all be clear, Eisner was NOT seeking to re-up with Disney. He ran the company for 21 years and (without question) left on his own terms.

From TH Creative on October 1, 2009 at 4:50 PM
Let's make sure everyone is clear: The Inbev/Blackstone deal is PURE speculation at this point. Also let's make sure everyone is aware that Blackstone/Merlin has corporate STATED principles which indicate they will NOT run parks that feature animals performing tricks (as in Shamu and dolphins jumping to rock music soundtracks.

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