NBC set for stock-market float as Vivendi mulls sale of stake

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The Independent Online

NBC Universal, the US movies and television giant, could be floated in a scheme under consideration at its parent company, General Electric (GE). The company is drawing up contingency plans for an initial public offering next year, if French media company Vivendi decides to sell its 20 per cent stake.

GE thinks there could be strong demand from investors for shares in NBC Universal, whose television arm makes the sitcoms The Office and 30 Rock. Universal Studios hits this year include Brüno and Inglourious Basterds.

Vivendi merged its Vivendi Universal movie studio with NBC in 2004, and it has the right to sell its minority stake in the combined company to GE at a certain time each winter.

Jean-Bernard Lévy, Vivendi's chief executive, has been emphasising in recent weeks that the stake in NBC Universal is "non-core", though at an investor conference on Wednesday, he said no decision would be taken until nearer mid-November, when its annual option to sell comes up. "You will know more at that time," he said.

Mr Levy added that it was stock-market turmoil that prevented him from selling out last year. "We didn't really know where the market was going, and advertising was not in our favour so we decided not to trigger."

NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker deflected questions about the future of the company from investors, saying it was a matter for Vivendi, but it is understood GE is expecting the French company to say it wants out. The company is examining all options, but buying the stake back itself or selling the 20 per cent to another media partner are seen as less appealing options than selling the stake in an initial public offering.

The news of GE's internal planning was first reported by CNBC, one of its cable news channels. Analysts say NBC Universal could be worth around $25bn.