Broadcasting & Cable is just reporting now that Disney, Hearst, and NBC Universal are talking about restructuring their A&E Television Network partnership so that they could form a new joint venture which would fold in women’s cable brand Lifetime, giving NBC Universal a stake in the bigger company. Boys and girls, can you spell even more Big Media c-o-l-l-u-s-i-o-n? After all, Jeff Zucker and Bob Iger aren’t just in business together (Hulu, etc), they’re pals.
And let’s not forget that Jeff Zucker and Lifetime were just at each others’ throats legally over Project Runway. But also NBCU owns estrogen-heavy Braco, USA and Oxygen. Notes B&C: “The deal would appear to make perfect sense for NBCU given its clear strategy of targeting women via a cross-the-board corporate effort dubbed, Women@NBCU. A piece of the Lifetime franchise might even goose its iVillage acquisition, as the Website also targets women.”
B&C quotes an insider as saying today “there is some discussion of taking A&E, History and Lifetime and putting them together with the same three players.” Another exectold the publication a deal would likely be made within the month after discussions have been ongoing for 12 months. But the problem is “valuing individual assets”. In fact, a year ago, Iger signaled to Multichannel News that a change of ownership of A&E might be in the cards but “unwinding decades-old partnerships gets kind of complicated. It takes two and, in A&E’s case, three partners to tango. There are some tax liability issues, not that they can’t be dealt with. We’ve talked about it over time seeing whether there is a way to restructure in some fashion and we will continue to explore those discussions.”
Disney-ABC TV and Hearst each own 37.5% in A&E Television Networks and NBC Uni 25%. Lifetime is run by a 50/50 joint venture of Hearst and Disney, called Lifetime Entertainment Services. Any deal would expand a growing relationship between Disney-ABC and NBC Universal which are also newly Hulu partners. A&E Television Networks owns A&E Network, History Channel, Bio, Military History, Crime & Investigation and History en espanol, while Lifetime operates Lifetime Movie Network. NBC Universal gained its stake in A&E Television in 1984 following a merger between ARTS and Entertainment Channels.