General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC Universal segment is having a tough time with its NBC network. Ratings are so dismal that even late-night host Conan O'Brien is joking about them. There are reports now that NBC may have to settle for lower advertising rates; a Reuters piece suggested that the network may have to drop prices by 2%, while other sources estimate as much as 4%.

This qualifies as a definite "ouch!" But the broadcasting game is cyclical, and investors have to accept its ebbs and flows. Disney (NYSE:DIS) owns ABC, Viacom (NYSE:VIA) owns CBS, and News Corp. (NYSE:NWS) owns feisty Fox, and they battle each other for access to your eyeballs. NBC was once brimming with hit properties like Friends and Seinfeld, while ABC ruined itself with too many showings of Regis Philbin's Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Now ABC is enjoying hit shows such as Desperate Housewives and Lost, while NBC is trying mightily to capture those capricious eyeballs.

General Electric stockholders won't be leaping from tall buildings anytime soon. The industrial conglomerate has many businesses at its disposal to smooth things out. To risk a cliché, GE is like a mutual fund, competing in a diverse group of industries. Page 64 of the company's 2004 10-K summarizes the conglomerate's many operating segments.

Consolidated revenues for 2004 totaled approximately $152.9 billion; NBC Universal's revenue gross was 8.4% of the total, at $12.9 billion. Total segment operating profit was $21.3 billion, while NBC Universal contributed around 12% of those profits, or $2.6 billion. Keep in mind that the NBC network is just one part of NBC Universal, which also includes Universal film studio. When a few of GE's segments are running on low steam, an investor can be certain that other areas of the company will pick up the slack.

Nonetheless, NBC must get through this slump. Even though GE is diversified, it can't stand a drag in any one place for an inordinate amount of time, and besides, as Matt Thurmond pointed out, the television business can be a nice growth engine. Brian Gorman wrote a great article which questioned whether NBC's current schemes had a prayer of succeeding. I think NBC should make maximum use of Universal's assets, perhaps by creating TV spinoffs of popular Universal movies. Synergy might not be in vogue right now, but I say go for it.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and General Electric. The Fool has a disclosure policy.