GE’s Immelt: NBC Universal Not For Sale

Feb 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

By Nat Ives

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — General Electric Co. Chairman-CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt was quick to dispel the notion that NBC Universal was for sale at a public appearance this morning, batting down reports from the News Corp.-owned New York Post and Fox News.

“No,” Mr. Immelt said flatly when asked by Joanne Lipman, editor in chief of the forthcoming magazine Conde Nast Portfolio, whether there was any chance NBC could go on the block. “It’s more or less just made-up stuff that people are talking about,” he said.

NBC is far from leading its category — a quality GE prefers in its business units — but it has a good business and some building momentum, Mr. Immelt said. “Every now and then, companies need to fix things,” he said. “The business is going to overachieve within the next few years.”

Public conversation

The exchange took place during a public conversation between Mr. Immelt and Ms. Lipman presented by Portfolio at the Four Seasons in New York. (Although the crowd of advertisers, Portfolio staffers and others was dressed formally, Conde Nast Publications Chairman Samuel I. “Si” Newhouse Jr. wore a characteristic ensemble that included a blue blazer and white New Balance sneakers.)

Mr. Immelt also had the opportunity to defend CNBC star Maria Bartiromo, who has been scrutinized over her travel and close dealings with former Citigroup executive Todd Thomson. “We’ve completed the review,” Mr. Immelt said. “She did nothing wrong.”

Traveling with business executives and attending lavish events, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, are proper and encouraged as ways for Ms. Bartiromo to help build CNBC’s brand, Mr. Immelt added.

‘New York’ magazine report

Asked about New York magazine’s report that former GE chief Jack Welch said he would have fired Jeff Zucker by now — the same Mr. Zucker named CEO of NBC Universal on Tuesday — Mr. Immelt basically shrugged. “I’ve talked to Jack since the New York article,” he said. “He says he didn’t say it. Even if he did say it, I don’t really care. He’s been gone five years.”

On the issue of YouTube, one of the great conundrums for media companies today, Mr. Immelt took a strong stance. He said Mr. Zucker was right to follow the example set by Viacom last week, when it demanded YouTube remove 100,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom content.

“We will protect our intellectual property to the death,” Mr. Immelt said. NBC Universal might strike a partnership with YouTube owner Google, Yahoo or MSN, he said. “But it’s going to be our choice and our terms.”