Cablevision Systems Corp. CEO James Dolan tapped one of his best dealmakers from the company's Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. unit — former Rainbow vice chairman Hank Ratner — as his new right-hand man.
Ratner was named vice chairman of Cablevision last Wednesday, joining current corporate vice chairmen William Bell and Robert Lemle. Ratner's appointment was effective immediately.
In making the move, Cablevision restores the deal-making component to what historically has been a dual position. In the past, the Bethpage, N.Y.-based MSO has had both a transaction specialist and an operating executive as vice chairmen, starting with Bell and Marc Lustgarten.
Fills a gap
After Lustgarten died in 1999, Cablevision tapped Lemle to fill the deal maker role. When Lemle stepped back from day-to-day operations at the end of last year — he resigned as general counsel, but kept his vice chairman title — the company was again in need of transactional expertise.
"Historically, that seems to be the role of the vice chairman, it's more transactional," said SunTrust Robinson Humphrey cable analyst Gary Farber. "They generally seemed to have promoted people from within. If Lemle is taking a back seat [in day-to-day operations], this fills that in."
Ratner, a 15-year veteran of Cablevision, has had a hand in practically every major company deal since he signed on. Ratner will work closely with James Dolan, as well as Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan.
Among Ratner's more recent deals is the Dec. 9 sale of its Bravo cable channel to General Electric Co.'s NBC unit for $1.25 billion. Ratner also was involved in the Dec. 19 agreement to sell Cablevision's interest in Northcoast Communications's wireless communications licenses to Verizon Wireless for $750 million.
"I spent a lot of time [at Rainbow] working on strategy, transactions and alliances," Ratner said. "That's what I'll be doing at Cablevision. The move is sort of a formalization, because I had already started working on matters beyond Rainbow. It seemed natural to formalize that."
Ratner said his appointment does not signal that a major corporate deal is in the works.
"It is an indication that what I was doing before will continue to be needed in the future," Ratner said. "Strategy is always important, there are going to be transactional opportunities and alliances always make sense. Importantly, we will remain very focused on our growth plan that we've announced and that we're executing."
That includes continuing the rollout of Cablevision's iO: Interactive Optimum digital-cable service, as well as its high-speed data product, Optimum Online, he said.
"Hank has played an integral role in virtually every major development at Rainbow, its networks and its related entities," James Dolan said in a statement. "He is a first-rate strategic thinker who has also helped guide a number of Cablevision-related transactions.
"Given what Hank has achieved, and the great work that he has done for the company, we know that he will be a superb addition to Cablevision's executive team and we look forward to his continued invaluable contributions."
No replacement yet
The person who'll take over Ratner's role at Rainbow has not been determined, he said.
"[Rainbow president and CEO] Josh [Sapan] is figuring that out as we speak," Ratner said.
One of Ratner's earlier deals — the creation of the Fox Sports Net regional sports networks and News Corp.'s $850 million investment in Rainbow's sports channels — has again come to the fore. News Corp. has an option to put its interest in the regional sports networks to Cablevision for cash, which became exercisable on Dec.18. That option expires on Jan. 18.
While neither party has revealed what it will do, Cablevision has the option of buying out News Corp.'s interest, selling its interest to News Corp., or negotiating another alternative — possibly swapping its interests in the RSNs outside of New York for News Corp.'s interest in Madison Square Garden.
Ratner said that he has been in regular contact with News Corp. since he first did the deal five years ago.
"There are three potential alternatives, all of which we would be happy with," Ratner said.