NBC Broadcasting Good Times

Not long ago, I wrote a piece about General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) NBC Universal asset. It wasn't a happy one. The division has been the sore spot for GE -- NBC has had a challenging time in the ratings game, and as such, segment profit for NBC Universal for the latest quarterly period declined 10%. For the nine-month time frame, the decline was 9%.

But it looks like fortunes might be changing for the division. Earnings growth should be up next year, due to improved prospects for the network. According to an AP article, profits for NBC Universal should increase 5%. That's a nice reversal of the 4% decline that the segment will see in 2006.

This is great news for GE shareholders, of which I am one. You like to see all cylinders running efficiently -- having one that's a drag is, well, a drag. With NBC Universal pulling more of its weight, GE will have an easier time of delivering on its 2007 outlook, which calls for double-digit earnings expansion to fall somewhere between 10% and 13%.

It's always convenient to have your major broadcasting network on board the shareholder-value-enhancing train. I also own shares of Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , and I remember well when ABC was a dog. Once things bucked up at the alpha-net, Disney shareholders started to look forward to reports from the company's media segment. GE shareholders will do the same if the predictions hold. Indeed, many were wondering this year if GE should just sell the ailing unit. I for one think a content unit such as NBC Universal is important to the industrial conglomerate, considering that broadband technologies will only make entertainment libraries increasingly valuable over time.

So far, NBC is having success with shows such as Deal or No Deal and Heroes. The cable channels MSNBC and CNBC are also expected to be contributing players to the NBC Universal rebound; CEO Jeff Immelt was quoted as saying those two assets are "very strong" right now. CNBC certainly does have some entertaining programs and personalities on its lineup right now. Whether you like Jim Cramer and his Mad Money show or the trading showcase called Fast Money, there's a lot for the individual investor to enjoy on the platform.

Investors should nevertheless contain their enthusiasm on the outlook for NBC Universal. I certainly don't dispute any of this guidance, but it is of course contingent upon the ratings momentum remaining resilient -- the acceptance of content by viewers can peter out at a moment's notice (remember the ephemeral primetime phenomenon known as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?). CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) and News Corp's (NYSE: NWS  ) Fox will be battling it out in the next sweeps periods, and there's obviously no guarantee that NBC won't see ratings erosion. For now, though, NBC is poised to do much better in the broadcasting marketplace.

GE as a whole looks like a pretty good investment idea right now. It hasn't done much for investors' portfolios in recent times, but the company just raised its dividend by 12%. The current yield on the stock is roughly 3.2%. That is a rather compelling yield for a blue chip like GE. If NBC Universal gets its house in order and contributes to the company's overall growth, investors might be well rewarded down the line.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and General Electric. As of this writing, he was ranked 4,635 out of 17,109 investors in the Motley Fool CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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