NBC Buys Controlling Interest in MSNBC

NBC Universal has acquired a controlling interest in MSNBC, the all-news cable channel, from its partner in the venture, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the companies said Friday.

NBC, a unit of General Electric Co. (GE), will wind up with an 82 percent stake in the cable news network, though NBC and Microsoft will continue to share ownership of the channel's Web site, MSNBC.com. After two years, NBC will have the option to buy the remaining 18 percent stake.

Spokeswomen for the companies declined to disclose financial terms of the transaction. A deal to restructure ownership of MSNBC had long been rumored to be in the works.

MSNBC, which was launched in 1996, has consistently lagged in Nielson viewership ratings, trailing a distant third among the all-news cable channels behind News Corp.'s (NWS) FOX News Channel and CNN, a unit of Time Warner Inc (TWX).

News Corp. is the parent company of the FOX News Channel, which operates FOXNews.com.

NBC's head of news, Steve Capus, said in a statement that he expected the deal to allow NBC to make a fuller integration of MSNBC into NBC's news operations.

For Microsoft, the move to exit the cable network marks the latest pullback from the traditional media business following its sale of the online opinion journal Slate to The Washington Post Co. a year ago.

Shares of GE rose 4 cents to $35.46 on the New York Stock Exchange. Microsoft shares were $26.59, unchanged from the previous day, in trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.