Programming

Time Warner, NBC Lead In Weather Channel Hunt

Offers for the Channel Expcted to be in the $3-4 Billion Range 5/23/2008 04:00:00 AM Eastern

The front runners for purchasing the Weather Channel are Time Warner, and an alliance between NBC Universal and private equity outfit Blackstone Group, the Wall Street Journal reports, with today’s deadline to submit second-round bids.

 Offers are expected in the $3-4 billion range, which is slightly lower than earlier estimates and below the $5 billion that seller Landmark Communications hopes for.

 Other potential bidders for the basic cable network have moved to the background. This includes CBS, which last week made a big Web diversification with a $1.8 billion deal to buy tech-focused CNET. Other potential suitors are Liberty Media, which owns Starz and is a shareholder in Discovery Communications, and also MSO giant Comcast.

 The Wall Street Journal article said Time Warner will be perhaps the most aggressive because it sees synergies pairing the Weather Channel with its CNN. Also, Time Warner is poised to receive $9.25 billion for its stake in Time Warner Cable, which is scheduled to be spun off in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, NBC Universal sees benefits putting its NBC Weather Plus local TV venture under the same roof as The Weather Channel.

 In a separate development, radio/outdoor media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications said Thursday night [10:08 PM Thursday] that it fully funded the debt component for its $17.9 billion sale to a consortium of private equity outfits, which is significant because it signals the battered credit market is starting to do big transactions again.

 The Clear Channel financing represents a resurrection of a troubled transaction because the private equity buyers had sued banks over an earlier collapse of funding. Now Bain Capital Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners can move forward with their buy of Clear Channel.

 Banks participating in the Clear Channel deal funding are Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia.

March