Report: Comcast Buying NBC for $35 Billion. Comcast: “Inaccurate”

the_office_promo_pic_nbcHere’s the big media deal everyone has been waiting for. Or at least, here’s the report: Sharon Waxman of TheWrap says cable giant Comcast (CMCSA) is buying all of NBC Universal from GE (GE) for $35 billion.

The deal was hammered out by reps at a Tuesday meeting, Waxman reports, citing “two individuals informed about the meeting”. The $35 billion price tag happens to be the value that a recent JP Morgan report assigned to the company.

Comcast, in a statement, says the story is untrue: “”While we do not normally comment on M&A rumors, the report that Comcast has a deal to purchase NBC Universal is inaccurate.” NBC Univesal has no comment.

Clintonian parsers will note that Comcast’s denial has potential wiggle room: It isn’t denying, for instance, that the two companies had or are having talks. On the other hand, this is exactly the situation where corporate pr protocol calls for the “we don’t comment on market rumor and speculation” line.  That way, you have the option to update your statement if the story does turn out to be true. And for what it’s worth, I can’t recall the last time I saw a big, publicly traded company respond to an M&A story with this specificity.

All that said, this is tie-up that has a first-blush logic to it: Comcast is flush with cash, and has shown an interest in branching out into content before — in 2004, it made a run at Disney (DIS). And the drumbeat for GE to dump its 80% stake in NBC U has been more or less constant, even while the industrial conglomerate insisted it had no interest in selling.

Those drumbeats get louder every year around this time, by the way. That’s because Vivendi, which owns the remaining 20% stake in NBCU, has a put option that kicks in every November, and which could theoretically force GE into buying out the stake or spinning the whole thing out to the public.

More theoretical ammunition for a deal: Comcast is one of the few potential buyers who could swallow up all of NBC U. While might be lots of people interested in NBC U’s cable properties (USA, Bravo, SciFi, etc) there aren’t many who also want the company’s flailing broadcast property.

And while Universal’s film library is potentially attractive to some buyers, many of them — like Time Warner (TWX),  for instance — have no interest in the film studio, because they already have one.

If you want to play out the theoretical implications for digital, things could get very interesting. NBC is one of the founding partners at Hulu, the free Web TV portal that’s caused consternation for Comcast and other cable providers, who worry that the site is undermining the value of the TV programming they spend big money on. And Comcast and Time Warner have been trying out a “TV Everywhere” strategy that is in part a reaction to Hulu’s initial success. But let’s let the dust settle for a minute before we head in that direction.

This Just In: YouTube Is Ginormous!

kingkonglivesYou already know this, but it’s always good to be reminded: In online video, there’s YouTube, and then there’s everybody else. Today’s data point: Comscore’s (SCOR) August video report, which shows Google’s video site generating 10 billion views and owning 39.6% of the market.

That’s 10 billion views, and that’s just counting Web surfers from the U.S. Factor in international visitors, and… it would be a lot bigger.

The rest of the rankings look about the same as they as they always do — puny compared to Google’s (GOOG) status. That is, if you add the next 9 biggest sites up together they won’t come close to matching YouTube’s share. But for the record, Hulu gained share but lost a position to its corporate cousin Fox Interactive Media/MySpace, its corporate cousin from News Corp (NWS). And Time Warner’s AOL (TWX) replaced Disney’s ABC (DIS) at the bottom of the rankings. Click chart to enlarge:
comscore chart

Yet another reason it’s amazing that it took Warner Music Group nine months to hammer out a deal to get its video back on YouTube — and bear in mind that they’re not there yet. If you’re in the music video business, and you pull your videos off the world’s biggest video site, you better have a very good reason to do so.

In other shocking news: This movie is 12 years old. That’s older than Google!

Apple’s Apps Flying Off the Virtual Shelves: 6.6 Million Downloads Per Day

apple-app-storeAnother milestone Apple is happy to brag about: It says it has served up 2 billion apps for the iPhone and iPod touch from its iTunes store.

How do we put that in context? A couple different ways.

For starters, let’s note that the velocity of apps Apple (AAPL) is delivering is increasing: It took Steve Jobs and co a little more than a year to serve up the first 1.5 billion apps, which averages out at 4.1 million downloads per day. But it moved the next 500 million apps within 76 days. That’s a 6.6 milllion per day average.

Next, let’s acknowledge that while the money Apple makes from the app store is secondary to its core hardware business, it’s still a sizeable amount.

Even if you assume that the majority of apps are downloaded for free, the remainder may still be generating sales of $200 million a month, mobile ad network AdMob guesstimates. Apple keeps 30% of that, which works out to be $720 million a year. Not bad for a side business.

Nondeal of the Day: Microsoft Says It’s Not Buying Electronic Arts

madden_101There’s going to be a lot of buying and selling in the coming months, but here’s one deal that’s not happening: Contrary to market-moving rumors, Microsoft (MSFT) isn’t buying  videogame giant Electronic Arts (ERTS). Reuters:

“We have no plans to acquire EA,” Phil Spencer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. “They remain a very important partner to us. No acquisitions.”

Spencer declined to comment on whether it had held talks with Electronics Arts on such a move.

Anybody else want to take a run at the company? After a 7% jump yesterday, the company behind the “Madden” franchise, among others (it also has a piece of the “Rock Band” business), sports a $6.4 billion market cap.

Meanwhile, both Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) have announced that they’re in the market for relatively bit-sized deals.

Vevo, Universal Music’s Hulu for Video, Gets a Salesman

david kohlVevo, the music industry’s attempt to create a Hulu-like hub for its videos, is going to attract a lot of eyeballs when it launches later this year. Here’s the guy who’s supposed to attract advertisers: David Kohl, a former Nokia executive who starts work today as the site’s sales boss.

Kohl’s job is a key one at the venture, whose premise is that the music industry can do a better job of selling its video inventory than sites like Google’s YouTube (GOOG). Vevo is a joint venture owned (for now) by Sony (SNE) and Vivendi’s Universal Music Group; YouTube will help power the site and will share in some of its revenue.

In theory, there could be a lot of dollars to go around. When Vevo opens its doors later this year, it is expected to generate some 450 million video streams a month. In theory, the fact that a single company will control the way the videos and displayed and distributed will make those streams more attractive to advertisers.

vevo-logoBut there are plenty of skeptics who think the site will flounder, in large part because the music industry has never figured out how to run a successful consumer business, and the media business has a terrible track record when it comes to joint ventures. In Vevo’s favor: They said the same thing about Hulu, and that has been a success, at least operationally.

Kohl will run a six-person sales team he intends to expand, people familiar with Vevo’s strategy tell me. Up until now, Vevo head Rio Caraeff has been overseeing sales himself — and learning on the job, since he didn’t have any sales experience of his own. Vevo now employs about 45 people.

At Nokia, Kohl ran the company’s interactive ad group; he has also put in time at Viacom’s MTV Networks, Vivendi Universal and Comedy Central.

Tablet Schmablet: How About a Mud PC?

092209ATDgizmodoThe Wondertablet the guys at Gizmodo showed off last night looks cool. But you can’t actually touch one right now unless you know someone very connected at Microsoft (MSFT).

You know what you can touch? Today? How about a PC you control by shoving your hands in a box full of mud?

Seriously. All you have to do is get yourself to New York’s Nolita neighborhood and drop by Gizmodo’s annual gallery show, chock full of cool, weird and often gloriously useless gadgetry.

Among other geegaws on display: An automated pancake maker, some spark-emitting and dangerous-looking Tesla coils, a “Star Trek” tricorder and a videogame that dispenses beer. And, of course, an array of Apple (AAPL) paraphernalia, including some arts-and-craftsy iPhone cases.

The free show, which runs through Sunday, is mostly a labor of love on the part of head gadgeteer Brian Lam. But I gather it’s now making some money, via sponsorships, for Gawker Media’s Nick Denton. (And if that’s the case, I hope Denton uses some of that money to make sure there’s enough power and air conditioning at next year’s gallery. Also maybe some cots for his charges.)

Lam gave me a mini-tour yesterday afternoon, which I filmed with a Flip camcorder. If want to to see for yourself (it’s much less shaky that way), drop by the gallery at 267 Elizabeth Street.

Is YouTube’s Biggest Star Ready for the Big Screen?

fredWho’s going to be the first Web star to make it to the movies? One alarming possibility: Lucas Cruikshank, better known to a staggering number of YouTube viewers as “Fred.”

Fred is one of those weird cultural phenomena, like Rascal Flatts or the Wiggles, that are hugely popular in some demos and unknown in others. So while you may have never seen him, he was until very recently the biggest star on Google’s (GOOG) video site, and has generated more than 300 million views.

And now, a movie? I’ve yet to hear about anyone committing to financing, and/or distributing one, but Tubefilter has found what it says is a casting call for a Fred-based flick. That makes no sense to me, but then again, I thought “Beavis and Butthead” wouldn’t translate to the big screen, and that worked pretty well, in my humble opinion.

Then again, in my humble opinion, this stuff is unwatchable. Be warned: