NBC Universal buys international cable channels

The company will acquire 30 cable channels owned by Sparrowhawk Holdings in London.

NBC Universal said it is acquiring about 30 international cable television channels owned by Sparrowhawk Holdings of London.

The move is consistent with the company’s intention to make NBC Universal a more international media player. “Media is growing much faster internationally than it is here [in the United States],” Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive of NBC Universal, told the “New York Times.”

Zucker confirmed to the newspaper that the acquisition is the first major move in a strategic shift he plans for the company. “We want to transfer our portfolio into high-growth businesses and look to move away from businesses that are slower growth,” he said. “We are going to acquire and dispose and, at the end of the day, self-fund all of these moves.”

Zucker did not reveal which parts of NBC Universal he intends to sell, or name any potential acquisition targets. But NBC Universal, the newspaper said, has been among several media companies, including Viacom, at the center of speculation as potential bidders emerge for the Oxygen cable channel, which caters to an audience of women.

The Sparrowhawk acquisition includes 18 non-U.S. versions of the Hallmark channel. The combined channels are estimated to earn about $200 million a year.

Zucker told the newspaper that the goal is to double revenue in the next three years, and this represents a big step in that direction.

News reports estimated that NBC Universal paid about $350 million for the deal. The “Times” said a group of investors paid $242 million for the channels two years ago.

Sparrowhawk, the report said, will give NBC Universal greater exposure to the fast-growing television markets in Asia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.