Universal Studios Japan owners in talks to sell

Sep 15, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
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Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the other owners of Universal Studios Japan, are in talks to sell a stake in the theme park to Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, people familiar with the deal said, in a deal that could value the Japanese company at US$6 billion, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator and owner of cable channels including USA, Bravo and E!, is seeking to buy a majority stake in the theme park’s holding company USJ Co., one of the people said. USJ, whose other shareholders include Asian private-equity firms MBK and PAG, had initially been looking to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange this month but has now pushed IPO plans to next year as talks with Comcast take place, one of the people said.

Buying into the Japanese theme park will help NBCUniversal play catch up with rival media giants such as 21st Century Fox, Time Warner Inc., and Discovery Communications Inc., who have been more aggressive in international markets.

21st Century Fox and Wall Street Journal-owner News Corp were part of the same company until 2013. NBCUniversal declined to comment.

NBCUniversal has license agreements with Universal Studios Japan in Osaka and is also the owner of Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort, according to its website.

Universal Studios Japan opened in 2001 and made its debut in 2007 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market for startup companies. But struggling with decreasing visitors, USJ was delisted in 2009 when Goldman injected capital into the company.

In January, USJ said the theme park had drawn its 10 millionth visitor since the beginning of the fiscal year in April 2014. It attributed its success in boosting visitor numbers to the Harry Potter attraction, which opened in July. The attraction features a village and castle inspired by J.K. Rowling’s popular book and movie series. The park also has Spider-Man, Sesame Street and Jurassic Park-themed attractions.

Comcast has made no secret of its interest in international deals. Speaking at an investor conference last week, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said the company views international growth as a “huge opportunity.” He said only about 20% of NBCU’s revenue come from international businesses, which is “much lower” than that of some other big U.S. media companies.

As NBCUniversal’s core television businesses have come under pressure amid ratings and advertising softness, NBCUniversal executives have highlighted the company’s fast-growing theme parks business. NBCU is already pursuing global opportunities to expand its theme parks division with plans to build a new park in Beijing.