Three years after NBCUniversal’s stake in A&E Television Networks was diluted following the addition of Lifetime, NBCUniversal is cashing out to the tune of several billion dollars. Industry sources I’ve spoken with indicate that NBCU would likely part with its entire stake in the partnership in a deal that is estimated at more than $2 billion – as much as twice that amount. According to a Wednesday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission by NBCU parent Comcast obtained by The Wall Street Journal, NBCU on March 26 exercised an option to sell “a substantial portion” of its stake in A&E TV Networks to its joint-venture partners, the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. Hearst and Disney initially owned 37.5% of A&E TV Networks, and NBCU held a 25% stake. When Lifetime, a 50-50 partnership between Hearst and Disney, was folded into A&E TV Networks in 2009, Disney and Hearst’s ownership increased to about 42.1% each, while NBCU’s dropped to 15.8%. Because of NBCU’s diminished interest in the merged company, the sides indicated at the time of the Lifetime deal that NBCU will eventually get out, with a provision for that included in the restructured partnership agreement. (NBCU itself changed ownership since then, from being a division of GE to being part of Comcast.) As for the value of NBCU’s stake, the WSJ cites Citigroup analyst Jason Bazinet’s estimate of about $2 billion, noting that the exact size of the stake to be divested is still being negotiated and the transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2012. I hear that estimate is rather conservative and the sale of what is expected to be NBCU’s entire stake, is expected to fetch more. A&E TV Networks, run for the past 7 years by president and CEO Abbe Raven, includes top-tier cable networks A&E, Lifetime and History as well as BIO, Military History and Crime & Investigation Network, among others. Its 2011 revenue was estimated at $3.4 billion.
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