Comcast to acquire majority stake in Universal Studios Japan

By Money Times

Sep 29, 2015 11:11 PM EDT

Comcast Corp. is getting a 51% stake in Universal Studios Japan Co. The US cable company has announced its NBCUniversal unit will pay Goldman Sachs and other owners of USJ Co. $1.5 billion for the majority stake.

Comcast, which has been looking for opportunities for global growth, says the investment is part of its theme park strategy. "We see Comcast and NBCuniversal becoming more of a global company," said Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts. "This is the beginning of us making more global investments."

The overseas investment is Comcast's biggest, five months after it dropped its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable Inc. amid resistance from anti-trust regulators. The company says it plans to make significant improvements in Osaka-based USJ over the next five years.

The theme park has seen a record increase in visitor numbers after introducing the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" attraction last year.

In its fiscal year through March, the theme park had 12.7 million visitors, up from 10.5 million in the previous year.

That's a turnaround for the 14-year old theme park operator that got delisted from Tokyo bourse's Mothers Market for start-ups. USJ, which positions itself as a rival to Tokyo Disneyland, went public in 2007. But two years later, the company was delisted amid declining visitor numbers.  

Now, with a surge in visitors, the company said it might seek re-listing this year. But with Comcast acquiring a majority stake in the company, the decision might change. Roberts said an IPO is not in Comcast's immediate horizon, although a new board would consider the idea. Jean-Louis Bonnier will lead USJ Co., taking over from CEO Glenn Gumpel who retires upon finalization of the deal. Bonnier has been chief financial officer for Universal Parks and Resorts since 2005.

The deal, which puts the value of USJ at $6 billion, is expected to close in November. USJ has been an independent company though it operates under license from NBCUniversal.

In 2013, NBCUniversal was acquired by Comcast from General Electric Co. for $16.7 billion. This gave Comcast control of NBCUniversal's film and theme park businesses, as well as the NBC broadcast network.

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