News Corp. Interested in Hallmark

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News Corp. president Peter Chernin last week confirmed his company is kicking the tires on Hallmark Channel, with Rupert Murdoch’s fiefdom among several media giants that have submitted initial bids for the network.

Time Warner Inc. and Viacom Inc. also are among those making offers for family friendly Hallmark, according to individuals at the network and parent Crown Media Holdings Inc. A second round of bids is expected to be on the table before the end of the year.

Chernin, in a brief interview following his presentation at the Credit Suisse First Boston Global Media Week conference in New York last week, said News Corp. was involved in the first round for Hallmark. News Corp. continues to look at the network, but whether it will be involved in the second round of bidding “will depend on what we find when we look at it more,” Chernin said.

Crown’s board reviewed the first round of bids at a Dec. 1 meeting, according to a network source.

Walden Media, the film-production company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, is also expected to participate in the bidding process, possibly by partnering with another media company, a person close to Crown said.

Viacom spokesmen couldn’t be reached last week for comment. Time Warner, which would tuck Hallmark Channel into its Turner Broadcasting System Inc. cable-programming unit, declined to comment.

Somewhat like News Corp., Viacom has positioned itself as a cautious suitor when it comes to Hallmark. In November, Viacom president and co-chief operating officer Les Moonves told Reuters his company had looked at the network, but added, “I don’t know if that’s what we want to do right now.”

A spokesman for The Walt Disney Co. maintained that media giant isn’t interested in Hallmark, despite a published report to the contrary. Disney already has a family oriented network in its cable portfolio in ABC Family.

The bids so far for Hallmark and its 71 million subscribers have ranged from $1.65 billion to $1.8 billion, which would also cover $886 million in debt, one Wall Street executive said. That means those offers would assign a value of only about $1 billion to the Hallmark network itself, a price some network insiders think is too low, according to a person there.

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