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Universal Studios Unfazed by Comcast Deal

Thursday, 03 Dec 2009 08:21 PM

 

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UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- Almost everywhere you look at Universal Studios Hollywood, there are signs flaunting the 5-year-old marriage of NBC and Universal.

There's the billboard of Conan O'Brien from NBC's "The Tonight Show" smiling down at visitors on their way to the ride based on Universal Pictures' "Jurassic Park," and those cutouts of the bubbly hosts from the NBC-owned entertainment news show "Access Hollywood" greeting guests as they step off the backlot tram tour.

Except for the light bulbs, you would be hard-pressed to find any presence from parent General Electric Co., which agreed Thursday to sell a controlling stake of NBC Universal to cable TV operator Comcast Corp. If the deal clears regulatory and other hurdles, the transition from GE to Comcast should prove seamless for the sprawling theme park, which has been shuffling visitors through its working backlot since Carl Laemmle founded the then-250-acre property in 1915.

It was business as usual Thursday morning as crowds strolled through the adjacent CityWalk shopping and retail area and the theme park, home to attractions based on movies like "The Mummy" and "Terminator 2." Nate Stander, an investment banker from Salt Lake City visiting the theme park with his wife, earlier heard about the deal on the NBC-owned financial news network CNBC. While waiting in line for the backlot tram tour, he said the anchors seemed happy about their new boss.

"They were optimistic," said Stander. "If someone is taking you over, I guess you have to be."

Stacey Tomaselli, who was visiting the theme park with her family from Puyallup, Wash., hoped the deal meant the theme park would receive more attention from its parent company, namely extending its operating hours "past 8 p.m. like Disneyland." Other tourists had not heard about Comcast's potential takeover of NBC Universal but were optimistic about the possibility of movies reaching cable more quickly or TV shows appearing faster on cell phones and other devices.

"I think it makes no difference to me," Chris Purdy from Livermore, Calif., said while waiting in line with his family to get their picture taken with Homer Simpson. "If it will make it easier, cheaper, faster or more accessible, I'm happy."

The Parents Television Council doesn't think so, saying Thursday that the potential merger would result in less choice for families and consumers. GE originally obtained the California and Florida theme parks and the Universal Pictures movie studio from French conglomerate Vivendi SA in 2004 in a deal that gave Vivendi a 20 percent stake in the combined venture. The theme parks are a relatively small part of NBC Universal's business, which includes the Spanish-language Telemundo, about two dozen cable channels and the NBC broadcast network.

"Tonight Show" host O'Brien was already sucking up to his new commander.

"Today, I was trying to think of a joke about our new potential boss, Comcast," he said during his monologue Wednesday night. "But then I realized: How do you do a joke about the country's largest provider of cable services and one of the world's leading communications companies? Quality, reliability and innovation can be summed up in one word _ Comcast."

At least one NBC Universal star has yet to bow down to his new chief: King Kong. The giant ape from director Peter Jackson's 2005 film has been starring with Naomi Watts, who reprises her role as leading lady Ann Darrow, in a commercial promoting Comcast rival DirecTV. Next summer, a new 3-D attraction based on Jackson's "King Kong" is slated to swing onto the Universal Studios backlot tram tour after the previous King Kong attraction was destroyed in a fire last year.

___

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