NBC eyes Vivendi in bid to take on Viacom, Disney

NEW YORK: Ever since Vivendi formally invited bids for Vivendi Universal Entertainment -- the Universal film and TV studio, theme parks, and cable channels nearly two month ago, the bidding has come in thick and furious.

Some players like MGM dropped out after the initial spurt of enthusiasm. Reports now indicate that television network NBC is in the forefront to buy the assets of Vivendi Universal.

Some parties including Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone are said to have found Vivendi's price of $14 billion very expensive and an exit would not come as a surprise. Sources indicate that NBC submitted a letter of interest a couple of days ago.

By bidding, NBC has made a clear statement that it wants to take its business to the next level. Its competition would broaden from just ABC, CBS to their respective media conglomerate parents, The Walt Disney Company and Viacom.

A Reuters report indicates that besides NBC, the other companies in the fray at the moment are John Malone's Liberty Media and a consortium headed by Vivendi vice-chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. Malone however has also expressed concern over the price tag.

NBC's industrial conglomerate parent, General Electric (GE) has firmly backed the network. A Reuters report indicates that over the past couple of years, GE has supported the broadcasters' purchase of Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo and arts channel Bravo.

While adding size to its entertainment business is important, analysts are however sceptical as to the amount of money NBC would be able to shell out for the assets. Over the years, NBC has gained critical acclaim for cult shows like The Cosby Show and ER. It also runs the business and financial channel CNBC.

NBC has not indicated whether or not it plans to purchase all assets. It is felt by some bankers that the broadcaster may be simply looking at the cable networks.

Adding strength to NBC's case is investment bank JP Morgan who recently made the following remarks in a research note. "GE appears to be emerging as a front runner in the auction for the Vivendi assets, and our sense is that the level of interest at the company has increased since the process began several months ago."

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