Comcast Corp. is making its biggest overseas investment, as the largest U.S. cable operator seeks international growth after being stymied in its bid to acquire its second-largest competitor Time Warner Cable Inc.
Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit will pay $1.5 billion for the stake in USJ Co., the operating company of the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka, Comcast said in a statement. Current shareholders Goldman Sachs Group Inc., MBK Partners Ltd. and USJ Chief Executive Officer Glenn Gumpel will retain minority stakes.
“We see Comcast and NBCuniversal becoming more of a global company” Brian Roberts, Comcast chief executive officer, told reporters in Osaka on Monday. “This is the beginning of us making more global investments,” he said, adding the USJ deal will be Comcast’s biggest investment outside the U.S.
Philadelphia-based Comcast’s, which in April dropped its bid to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. amid opposition from antitrust regulators, has been seeking growth elsewhere including from digital media in the U.S. Its NBCUniversal unit, which owns Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort, has license and operating agreements with Universal Studios Japan, according to its website.
USJ, listed in 2007 but taken private by Goldman two years later as the park’s appeal faded and the number of visitors slumped, had earlier said it could seek a re-listing this year. Sales and visitor numbers at the 14-year-old Japanese theme park had hit a record high following a revamp with a new $400 million Harry Potter attraction opened last year.
USJ’s valuation reflects an enterprise value of 750 billion yen ($6.2 billion), said Ankur Sahu, Goldman Sachs managing director, at the Osaka briefing. The USJ deal is expected to close in three to four weeks, and Gumpel will step down as CEO, to be replaced by Jean-Louis Bonnier, according to Comcast.
Comcast Corp. in 2013 gained the Universal film and theme park businesses after it agreed to pay General Electric Co. $16.7 billion for full ownership of NBCUniversal, which also gave Comcast control of the NBC broadcast network, as well as cable channels MSNBC and Bravo.
NBCUniversal in August agreed to make a $200 million investment in the news website BuzzFeed and a similar amount in Vox Media, the online publisher of The Verge, Eater and Re/code, in an effort to capture the growth in digital advertising and reach younger consumers.
USJ had sales of 138.5 billion yen in the fiscal year ended March 2015, up 44 percent from a year earlier, while operating profit rose 61 percent to 39 billion yen, both all-time highs, spokesman Johta Takahashi said earlier Monday.
Its theme park, which opened in 2001 as a joint venture between Osaka city and a group of private companies, also received a record 12.7 million visitors in the fiscal year through March 2015, up from 10.5 million, according to Takahashi.