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Universal Orlando Resort buy-out could cost NBC Universal $1.6 billion

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NBC Universal may have to pay as much as $1.55 billion to buy out the Blackstone Group's 50 percent stake in the Universal Orlando Resort, according to analysts.

Bloomberg reports that analysts value the entire resort at $2.3 billion to £3.1 billion. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Blackstone has triggered a possible ownership change by offering to sell its stake to NBC Universal. The company has until June 12, 2011 to accept the offer, or it will have to facilitate a full sale of the entire resort to a third-party.

At stake is the future ownership of the Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks, plus the CityWalk nighttime entertainment district. The Bloomberg report quotes Standards & Poors analyst Tuna Amobi as saying that private equity buyers are the most likely to step in if NBC Universal opts not to take over the resort, with most other media companies prefering high-margin character licensing deals.

If NBC Universal declines the offer, Blackstone will have 270 days to sell the parks to a new owner. The situation is complicated by the fact the drawn-out takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast was only completed less than two months ago.

The performance of the Universal Orlando Resort has improved significantly during the last year following the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. The new land was behind a 20 percent attendance boost during 2010, which led to record full-year profits of $267 million.

However, the SEC filing regarding Blackstone's offer to sell reveals that Warner Bros. could opt to terminate the license to use the Harry Potter characters if any new owners fails to meet "certain financial and reputation tests", or if quality levels drop at Islands of Adventure.


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