Los Angeles Business Journal

Disney and Hearst to Own All of A&E

By Jonathan Polakoff Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walt Disney Co. of Burbank and Hearst Corp. of New York have agreed to become fifty-fifty partners in A&E Television Networks, a New York company that owns a group of popular cable channels.

In a deal announced Tuesday, the media conglomerates agreed to buy minority owner NBC Universal’s 15.8 percent stake in A&E for $3.03 billion. The remainder of A&E is already owned 50-50 by Disney and Hearst.

The amount will be paid in cash and a senior note issued by A&E, according a regulatory filing. The sale price implies a valuation of about $19 billion for A&E, which is based in New York and has a portfolio that includes the History Channel and Lifetime. The deal requires regulatory approval.

Analyst Alan Gould of Evercore Partners in New York said the deal will give Disney and Hearst more exposure to the attractive cable TV business.

“(Cable TV) has become a growing piece of the business for everyone,” he said. “It’s been a more attractive asset (than the film business) for the past decade or so.”

Disney and Hearst are also partners in the cable sports network ESPN. Operating profit for Disney’s TV division, which includes ESPN and broadcast network ABC increased 13 percent, to $1.73 billion, in the quarter ended March 31.

Comcast Corp. bought NBC Universal last year. Comcast exercised an option to sell its share of A&E in March, and reportedly valued it at $2.02 billion. Since then, the History Channel miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” drew a record non-sports cable audience of 14 million people to the channel, which has fueled speculation that the show increased the value of the sale. Still, Gould downplayed the impact of a single program on A&E’s valuation.

Disney shares closed down 1.33 percent to $47.36 in trading Tuesday.