NBC Universal, the broadcasting and entertainment arm of General Electric, on Tuesday forecast profits and sales growth of more than 20 per cent next year after extracting benefits from the merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment.

Bob Wright, NBC Universal chairman and chief executive, said operating profits were on track to reach $3.1bn in 2005, up from $2.4bn this year, while sales were expected to jump from $12bn to about $15bn.

Mr Wright told investors in New York of synergy benefits and savings following the acquisition of Vivendi Universal's studios, cable TV and theme parks business in May this year.

Synergies of $100m this year are forecast to reach $300m next year, which will come from better utilisation of NBC Universal's film and television library, improved cable branding and more efficient marketing.

?We have been able to combine two operations well and distribute their assets all over the world,? said Mr Wright. ?It's a $15bn high-margin growth business.?

He re-iterated that Vivendi Universal of France could monetise its stake of 20 per cent in NBC Universal from 2006, but made no comment as to whether it would seek an exit. As part of the original deal, GE paid $3.65bn in cash for Vivendi Universal Entertainment (VUE) by issuing 119m shares to the French group while assuming $1.7bn of debt.

In addition to savings and synergies from the deal, Mr Wright said the enlarged group would look at international expansion. He predicted that the group could exploit DVD demand outside the US and expand the cable TV channels of VUE to increase its overseas presence. ?We want to be more aggressive in developing our international presence,? he added. ?We were not aggressive enough with NBC.?

The TV operations would, in future, be more closely co-ordinated with the Universal Studios business. A group of senior NBC Universal executives were said to be studying such moves in meetings this week in Europe.

Mr Wright said such initiatives were preferable to expanding NBC Universal from a pure content company into a distribution or TV infrastructure company.

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