The Walt Disney Co., Hearst Corp. and NBC Universal are in talks about changes to their long-time A&E Television Networks partnership in a deal that will reportedly add women's network Lifetime Entertainment into the venture.
Disney, Hearst and NBC have been partners in A&E since the network was created through the combination of ARTS and Entertainment Channels in 1984. Disney and Hearst own about 37.5% with NBC controlling about 25%.
As first reported by sister publication Broadcasting & Cable, the three partners are close to forging a deal that would add Lifetime Entertainment to the partnership. Lifetime is owned 50-50 by Disney and Hearst.
The new partnership would be headed by current AETN CEO Abbe Raven, B&C reported. NBCU would end up with a smaller percentage stake in the enlarged venture — estimated by some executives to be in the mid-teens — with Disney and Hearst's stakes rising.
“We can confirm that we are in conversations with our partners on the ownership structure,” Disney-ABC Television Group executive vice president of global communications Kevin Brockman said. “However no agreement has been reached and we have no announcements.”
Some executives familiar with the talks said there could be cost savings through combining ad sales operations. This could also help enable a future exit for NBCU, which has expressed a desire to unwind minority partnerships.
“I think that NBC figured out they were never going to get more of A&E, because neither Disney nor Hearst were going to decrease their stakes,” an executive said. “By doing this, everybody gets what they want.”
For Disney and Hearst, the combination could strengthen Lifetime, which has seen its cachet decline in recent years.