New York -- The international cable-systems interests owned
by Tele-Communications International Inc. (TINTA) may wind up being sold or swapped to
AT&T Consumer Services as a result of last week's merger, according to top
Tele-Communications Inc. officials.
Such a move would extend the cable/telco synergy strategy
that AT&T Corp. and TCI outlined last week to the major international markets of
Britain, Argentina and Japan.
TCI president and chief operating officer Leo J. Hindery
Jr. said the TCI-affiliated international cable-systems assets that are currently
majority-owned by TCI Ventures Group -- which will be folded into Liberty Media Group --
will probably be quickly shifted over to AT&T Consumer Services.
"There was really no time. The answer is that it sure
wouldn't be inappropriate or intellectually inconsistent to move the distribution
pieces over toward us in consumer services," he said, speaking after the press
conference to announce the merger last Wednesday. Asked how soon the move might be made,
Hindery said, "Tomorrow. We're just so tired, we didn't do it today."
Dob Bennett, president and CEO of Liberty Media Group,
agreed after the press conference that it may make sense to begin to split apart some of
the programming and distribution assets of TINTA, but he wasn't as definite as
Hindery about systems pieces moving to AT&T soon.
"TINTA has both programming and cable assets, and we
haven't sorted out whether there is a logic to moving the cable-asset component of
it," Bennett said. "I think that Leo is correct to say, 'Yeah, you've
got a consumer business, which intends to be a global provider of communications services,
and there is distribution footprint residing in TINTA,' so we will try to find a way
to have us work together. I don't know what form that will take." TCI Ventures
currently holds an 85 percent stake in TINTA.
Reached the next day in London, David Evans, chairman and
CEO of TINTA, said, "Leo's comments may make sense from a logical point of view,
given that the company that [Liberty Media] is going to become will be a programming
company, so I understand why Leo would say that. But those assets belong to TINTA at this
point in time."
But, he added, "I believe that AT&T would have a
very strong appetite for them."
Evans said no changes were already afoot, but he reaffirmed
TINTA's interest in exploring the sale of its systems assets and moving forward as a
pure international programming player. Evans noted that he joined TINTA in September with
a brief to "redirect TINTA into a pure programming company." Since then, TINTA
has sold or exchanged several other systems assets. TINTA has major stakes remaining in
Telewest Communications in Britain, Jupiter Telecommunications Co. Ltd. in Japan and
CableVisión/TCI2 in Argentina.
"I would assume that [AT&T] will seek some sort of
relationship between the Telewest assets and AT&T," Bennett said.
"They're looking at a global footprint. Telewest has a global footprint in the
U.K. Other TINTA assets have a footprint in Argentina, so I think that we will look at
ways of helping AT&T to achieve its objective of getting a footprint via the cable
assets that we have."