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NBC Universal disappoints French partner Vivendi

November 12, 2009 |  3:12 pm

They're not exactly shouting "Vive NBC!" within the executive suites of Vivendi these days.

Vivendi, the Paris-based media and telecommunications conglomerate that holds a 20% stake in General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, said the U.S. entertainment company's contribution to Vivendi dropped 27% for the first nine months of the year compared with the first three quarters of  2008. So far this year, NBC Universal earnings to Vivendi were $190.5 million. For the same period in 2008, NBC Universal contributed $220 million to Vivendi's bottom line.

Ironically, the declining performance of NBC Universal may actually benefit GE. That's because the industrial giant is negotiating to sell a controlling stake in NBC Universal to cable giant Comcast Corp. To do that, GE needs to buy back Vivendi's stake. And a weaker NBC Universal means that Vivendi's stake is worth less.

For those thinking that Vivendi might drop a hint today on its earnings call as to whether it planned to sell its 20% interest back to GE or take it public were disappointed. Although the annual window for Vivendi to exercise its option to sell its stake officially opens Sunday, Vivendi Chief Financial Officer Philippe Capron shed no light on the subject in a call with analysts. He said he would not entertain questions about a possible divestiture of NBC Universal -- and there were no questions.

-- Meg James