DEBORAH YAO

PHILADELPHIA (AP) ¿ Years ago, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts was asked at a conference what kept him awake at night. His answer: A new technology that would severely hurt the cable TV business.

His fears haven't come to fruition yet. But the growing popularity of watching shows, movies and other content streamed over the Internet or over cell phone networks make the cable pipe less important for video than it ever has been in the history of the business.

Now Comcast is in talks with General Electric Co. to take a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal. The largest U.S. cable operator is expected to pay $4 billion to $6 billion in cash, merge its cable networks into a spun-off NBC Universal and help shoulder $10 billion to $12 billion of debt at the new company.

By owning the content itself ¿ NBC Universal's assets include the NBC network, movie studios and several cable channels ¿ Comcast stands to make money no matter where a show is viewed.

Such leverage is welcome at a time when cable is losing basic cable subscribers to competitors and growth is slowing at its Internet and phone businesses. Meanwhile, fees it pays to programmers such as NBC Universal continue to climb.

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