Today’s the deadline for contenders interested in acquiring cable network Weather Channel and its Weather.com to submit their final bids. As it gets down to the wire, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) and a partnership between NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and Blackstone Group have emerged as the lead rivals to buy the business, WSJ reports. CBS Corp (NYSE: CBS). appeared to stake out a position as a likely buyer, but perhaps after having spent $1.8 billion to buy CNET (NSDQ: CNET), the company is now expected to step away from the content for the Weather Channel. Other parties that initially expressed interest, including Liberty Media (NSDQ: LINTA) and Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA), are also said to be backing away as well.
Landmark Communications, the owner of the Weather Channel, had been hoping to sell the property for at least $5 billion. But it has been frustrated almost from the beginning of the process. The final offers are likely to range between $3 and $4 billion, WSJ says, citing unidentified sources. As for who will win, Time Warner has surprised observers with its aggressiveness. But given the $9.25 billion it will get for spinning off its Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) business, it could be feeling more acquisitive lately. But just as Time Warner would like to pair the Weather Channel with CNN, NBCU would like to add the network to its less-well-known NBC Weather Plus unit.
Staci adds: CBS is widely assumed to have taken a pass by making the CNET deal, a move that surprised cable execs I spoke with earlier this week. But others are a better fit: NBCU has invested considerably in Weather Plus as a local offering; TWC is a natural complement for CNN — and it’s headquartered in Atlanta; it fits Liberty’s profile; and Comcast could use a major national network for its cable network group although might not be interested in what’s likely to be a hefty price tag.