Comcast to buy out GE’s interest in NBCUniversal five years ahead of schedule

Comcast has announced it will accelerate its acquisition of NBCUniversal, buying out the remaining 49 percent stake owned by General Electric for $16.7 billion. The purchase next month puts Comcast five years ahead of schedule in completing the network’s purchase.

As part of the announcement, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, said that NBCUniversal will buy the NBC studios and offices at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, as well as the CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Those transactions will cost about $1.4 billion.

The New York Timesreported that with the purchase of the office space comes naming rights for the iconic General Electric building in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. It is possible, the newspaper reported, the giant red “GE” sign atop 30 Rockefeller Center could be replaced by a Comcast logo.

“This is an exciting day for Comcast as we have agreed to accelerate the purchase of NBCUniversal,” said Brian Roberts, Comcast’s chief executive officer. “The management team at GE has been a wonderful partner during the past two years, and their support has been very valuable. Our decision to acquire GE’s ownership is driven by our sense of optimism for the future prospects of NBCUniversal and our desire to capture future value that we hope to create for our shareholders.”

In early 2011, Comcast took control of NBCUniversal by acquiring 51 percent of the company from GE. It agreed to pay about $6.5 billion in cash and contributed all of its cable channels, including E! and some regional sports networks, to the newly established NBCUniversal joint venture. The total value of Comcast’s channels was $7.25 billion.

“We believe the terms of the transaction are attractive and have planned for this event by taking a number of financial steps to prepare our balance sheet,” Roberts said. “We believe we are in a strong and unique position to continue to grow and build value in our combined company.”

The transactions will be funded with $11.4 billion of cash on hand, $4 billion of subsidiary senior unsecured notes to be issued to GE, $2 billion of borrowings under Comcast and/or subsidiary bank credit facilities and $725 million of subsidiary preferred stock to be issued to GE.

NBCUniversal operates the NBC broadcast network, 10 O&O television stations, USA, Bravo, Syfy, E!, MSNBC, CNBC, the NBC Sports Network, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Universal Studios and numerous other media brands.

The New York Times reported that the sale ends a long relationship between General Electric and NBC that goes back to before the founding days of television. In 1926, the Radio Corporation of America created the NBC network. General Electric owned RCA until 1930. It regained control of RCA, including NBC, in 1986, in a deal worth $6.4 billion at the time.

“We didn’t have to do it; GE didn’t have to sell now,” Roberts told CNBC. “But we came to an understanding that I think works out well for everybody. They get a lot of cash … and our shareholders have 100 percent of the upside here.”