Disney Talks on ABC Sale Heat Up as Byron Allen Makes Offer

Walt Disney Co. has now fielded at least one offer for its ABC TV network, local stations and some cable channels, and more may come as the company seeks to shed what it considers non-core assets and focus on streaming.

(Bloomberg) — Walt Disney Co. has now fielded at least one offer for its ABC TV network, local stations and some cable channels, and more may come as the company seeks to shed what it considers non-core assets and focus on streaming.

Media mogul Byron Allen offered $10 billion, albeit tentatively, for Disney’s flagship broadcast network as well as the FX and National Geographic cable channels, according to a person familiar with his proposal. Separately, Disney has held exploratory talks about ABC and its eight local TV stations with Nexstar Media Group Inc., people familiar with those discussions said. All of the people asked not to be named disclosing information that’s not public.

In a statement Thursday, Disney said that while it’s considering strategic options for its traditional TV networks, no decisions about a sale have been made. Nexstar declined to comment.

The negotiations could help establish the value of television assets that investors have increasingly seen as dead weight. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger has come under pressure to sell assets amid a rapid decline of cable-TV subscribers and steep losses in its streaming business. He suggested in an interview with CNBC in July that the linear TV assets may not be central to Disney and that he was open to divesting them. 

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Disney. The company engaged in a bruising battle with Charter Communications Inc. over prices for Disney channels in pay-TV bundles and on Thursday gave a sharply lower forecast for subscribers to its Disney+ streaming service. The shares were up 1.7% Friday morning in New York after reports of a potential sale.

A stand-up comic who branched into producing TV shows, Allen has spent more than $1.3 billion in recent years to acquire assets such as the Weather Channel and a string of local stations from Honolulu to Tucson. He has unsuccessfully thrown his hat in the ring other times to purchase media properties and his name has been associated recently with proposed acquisitions of TV station owner Tegna Inc. and the BET cable network.

Allen’s offer for Disney’s assets is preliminary and could change, the person familiar with the discussions said. The offer is based on the assumption that the properties generated $1.25 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization over the past 12 months. If that number is lower or higher, Allen would change his proposed price, which is based on a multiple of eight times Ebitda.

Allen would work with banks and private equity firms to finance an acquisition, the person said. He may sell the local TV stations he already owns that aren’t affiliated with ABC, so there wouldn’t be friction with other networks like CBS and NBC.

His closely held Allen Media LLC already carries a lot of debt, however. 

As for Nexstar, former President Tom Carter, who is now an adviser to the CEO and board, told investors at a Bank of America Securities conference Wednesday that the company is interested in acquiring assets from legacy media owners like Disney that are looking to restructure. Nexstar could acquire the ABC outlets with possibly only a few divestitures to stay within limits on broadcast station ownership, he said.

Carter added that there are some complications to a sale. ESPN, Disney’s sports network, shares many of its telecasts with ABC, for instance.

Analysts, too, saw the news of a potential sale of the linear assets as not a straightforward solution. 

Rosenblatt Securities said a deal with Nexstar would be “great for the breakup value argument for Disney’s equity,” but wouldn’t be without risks for Nexstar because it would add “substantial debt at a time of rising concerns for pay TV.”

Evan Young, an analyst at KeyBanc Securities, said selling the ABC network could be valued at $4 billion or more and would likely be done on a highly dilutive basis.

What’s more, “a sale of ABC tells us that Disney’s view on pay-TV is that it will soon implode, which to us means applying meaningful discount rates to all linear cash flows,” Young wrote in a note to investors.

–With assistance from Thomas Buckley and Ryan Vlastelica.

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