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NBC TO PAY $1.25 BILLION TO GET BRAVO.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

NBC, locked in a heated battle with CBS for ratings supremacy, will acquire the Bravo cable entertainment network from Cablevision Systems Corp. in a cash and stock deal amounting to $1.25 billion, officials announced Monday.

Bravo is best known its popular weekly series ``Inside the Actor's Studio'' and delivers one of cable's most upscale audiences. Launched in 1980, Bravo now reaches 68 million homes in the United States.

The NBC chairman and chief executive officer, Bob Wright, called Bravo ``a perfect strategic addition to our portfolio'' and said it has long been NBC's goal to expand its cable reach into entertainment.

The Peacock network already owns two cable news channels, CNBC and MSNBC, as well as the Spanish-language Telemundo network. NBC also has minority interests in the A&E Network, The History Channel, ValueVision Inc. (ShopNBC) and Paxson Communications.

``What this signals is that NBC is setting its sights on becoming more of an entertainment conglomerate,'' said David Joyce, an analyst with Guzman & Co. in Miami. ``They already purchased Telemundo, and Bravo is known to be one of the cable networks with the highest viewership in terms of education level and income level. That fits well with the programming and demographics that NBC currently attracts.''

Network executives said they plan to develop original projects that will cross over between NBC and Bravo, including reality shows, new series and specials. NBC News archives could also be used for creation of documentaries and entertainment programming on Bravo.

``By sharing programming and resources, there will be tremendous opportunities for us to build on the network's success,'' NBC President Andrew Lack said in a printed statement.

Bravo is scheduled to begin airing reruns of the NBC drama ``The West Wing'' in a deal struck before the acquisition. Still, NBC executives said they don't expect to use Bravo as an outlet for most of the network's current programming in the way that the ABC Family cable channel is for such new ABC sitcoms as ``Life With Bonnie'' and the FX channel has been for the Fox network drama ``24.''

Instead, executives said the cable network could be an avenue for independent projects that either don't fit with NBC's programming or for which there might not be room on the network's schedule.

``I think NBC has to pass on some decent pilots each year that would be better suited to a niche network, so now they have that niche,'' said Joyce. ``It's also a deal that is done at a pretty fair price. Bravo has some good growth characteristics, and Cablevision needs to resolve its funding gap issues.''

For Cablevision, under immense pressure to improve its balance sheet, the deal helps reduce its debt. The company will receive about $1 billion in stock: $400 million to $500 million from NBC-parent General Electric Co. and 53.2 million shares of Cablevision common stock that is owned by NBC. NBC already had a significant stake in Cablevision's Rainbow Media Group subsidiary, which owned Bravo.

In all, Cablevision now has an 80 percent stake in Bravo with the remaining 20 percent owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. NBC will pay $250 million cash for MGM's stake in Bravo.

Cablevision President and CEO James L. Dolan said ``parting with Bravo is tremendously difficult,'' but he expressed confidence that it would thrive under NBC ownership.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 5, 2002
Words:558
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