Comcast Eyeing Rainbow Sports Networks

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Attempting to add to its burgeoning network portfolio, Comcast Corp. is talking to Cablevision Systems Corp. about acquiring the MSO's stake in some or all of its five regional sports networks.

Sources close to the situation said that Comcast is in talks with Cablevision's Rainbow Sports division to gain ownership of Rainbow's majority stakes in Fox Sports Chicago, Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Bay Area, Fox Sports New England and Fox Sports Florida.

Of special interest to Comcast are the regionals in Chicago and the Bay Area — which covers the San Francisco-Oakland DMA — where Comcast controls most of the cable homes.

Any Comcast-Cablevision deal would also have to involve News Corp., which owns a minority interest in the five regional sports services. Yet, Comcast and News Corp. have pulled off regional sports-network swaps in the past.

In 2001, Comcast gained full control of Washington, D.C.-based Home Team Sports from News Corp. in return for the rights to Minnesota-based Midwest Sports Channel. Comcast acquired a stake in MSC and a two-thirds share of HTS from Viacom in return for increased cable carriage of several Viacom-owned networks.

Comcast has said that it wants to acquire programming networks and, in particular, sports services. Comcast currently owns the Comcast SportsNet regional networks in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

"You really want to have the Comcast name, if you can, associated with professional sports programming, in as many markets as you can," Comcast Cable president Steve Burke said in a recent interview with Multichannel News. "You've got to stay tuned to see how we do it."

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