More On AETN-Lifetime Combo: Sources Say NBCU’s Stay Could Be Short Term

If all goes as planned, Hearst and *Disney* could wind up as 50-50 partners in a joint venture combining A&E Television Networks with Lifetime Entertainment— eventually. *NBC Universal* would start with a stake in the combination as one of the three participants in the current AETN joint venture; Hearst and Disney (NYSE: DIS) each hold 37.5 percent while NBCU has 25 percent. But Hearst and Disney each own 50 percent of Lifetime, which gives them even more sway in a combination. Their stakes in the new joint venture would be between 42-44 percent, while NBCU’s would shrink as low as 12-14 percent. We reported on the prelim talks last night.

At the same time, multiple sources have confirmed to paidContent that the deal includes an exit clause for NBCU that will leave Hearst and Disney each with 50 percent. The details are a little murky at this point but the combined JV was described to me as the start of a possible NBCU’s departure; that means a path to an exit exists for the company, but it may not necessarily have to use it. Also murky: the valuation of the parts or the new whole.

A Disney spokesman confirmed “conversations with our partners on the ownership structure,” but said no agreement has been reached and there is no announcement.

Raven will head: The deal is not done although my sources say it is a matter of time. Meanwhile, as B&C reported and we have confirmed, we already know who will head the new company: Abbe Raven, president and CEO of AETN. Plans call for each of the network presidents to remain in place, including Andrea Wong, who currently heads Lifetime. Raven, a 25-year A&E vet with four years as CEO of AETN, would be responsible for a global entity that the companies believe will be far stronger with 10 distinct brands and 15 web sites in 145 countries. The idea is to gain cost savings by combing operations, as well as get a little more leverage with multichannel operators during carriage negotiations by having three of the top cable sites in Lifetime, A&E and History.

Nothing beyond JV: Both B&C and I raised the idea that this somehow could fit in with NBCU’s ad network Women@NBCU but multiple sources tell us that is not the case and that the deal is confined to the cable networks involved and their sites.

ESPN not involved: I didn’t see any way ESPN would be involved in this and I’ve been assured that is the case. Yes, Disney and Hearst are partners in ESPN but Disney holds 80 percent while Hearst has 20 percent and would gain nothing in this situation.


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