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Comcast to buy all of Universal Orlando

Discussion in 'Universal/Islands of Adventure' started by Wendy, Jun 1, 2011.

  1. Wendy
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    Wendy A hui hou kakou makuakane Staff Member Administrator

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    Comcast Corp. has decided to buy the Blackstone Group's half of Universal Orlando, two people familiar with the plan said Tuesday.

    The move would give the Philadelphia-based cable-TV giant full control over NBCUniversal's biggest and most profitable theme park, which has been experiencing record crowds since opening the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last summer.

    The pending deal was first reported by TheWrap.com, a news website covering the entertainment industry.

    Comcast is expected to pay between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for Blackstone's stake in Universal Orlando, TheWrap.com reported, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the details. Universal generated $267 million in operating profit last year.

    Representatives for Comcast, Blackstone, NBCUniversal and Universal Orlando all declined to comment Tuesday. The people familiar with the pending sale who spoke with the Sentinel did so only on the condition that they not be identified because they were not authorized by any of the parties to discuss the deal publicly.

    Blackstone formally offered to sell its Universal Orlando stake to Comcast in March, weeks after the cable company completed a $13 billion acquisition of NBCUniversal from General Electric Co.

    Comcast has until June 12 to buy out Blackstone; otherwise, the private-equity firm will be free to solicit third-party bids for the entire resort. Comcast would then be compelled to sell if Blackstone were able to find a rich enough bid.

    Comcast executives have hinted in recent weeks that they were leaning toward accepting Blackstone's offer to sell its half share. During a conference call with financial analysts earlier this month, Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis called the resort "well-managed" and "growing nicely."

    NBCUniversal's new chief executive officer is Steve Burke, previously Comcast's chief operating officer. Burke is also a former Walt Disney Co. executive who once ran Disneyland Paris.

    Universal Orlando is in the midst of the strongest financial performance in its history, thanks to the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    The resort's two theme parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure — drew 11.2 million visitors last year, up 20 percent from 2009. Profit rose more than sixfold to $148 million.

    The gains have continued in 2011: First-quarter attendance was up 68 percent from a year earlier.

    Industry analysts say a deal between Blackstone and Comcast is the ideal outcome for Universal.

    Most of the resort's key intellectual-property licenses — including its deal for Harry Potter with Warner Bros. Entertainment — include provisions in which Universal could lose those rights if acquired by a new owner. But those change-of-control provisions would not be affected by NBCUniversal assuming full ownership of the operation.

    "Full ownership by NBCU, which owns other Universal-branded theme parks globally, rather than in a 50-50 joint venture with a private-equity firm, would clarify the long-term strategic and financial position of the company," John Puchalla, a corporate-credit analyst with Moody's Investors Service, wrote in a research note in March.

    Comcast, through NBCUniversal's Universal Parks & Resorts division, already owns Universal Studios Hollywood in California. And it operates Universal theme parks in Japan and Singapore through licensing deals.

    Blackstone has co-owned Universal since 2000, having paid $275 million cash to buy the stake from Rank Group PLC. The firm in 2009 also bought Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment for a deal valued at about $2.5 billion.

    Source: Orlando Sentinel
     

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