Sinclair Broadcast Group has expressed interest in acquiring the Weather Channel’s TV operations from private-equity firms Bain Capital LLC and Blackstone Group LP, and Comcast Corp. ’s NBCUniversal, people familiar with the matter said.
Talks between Sinclair and the Weather Channel owners have been off and on for about a year and heated up again recently, the people said.
Last year International Business Machines Corp. bought the Weather Company’s digital assets for more than $2 billion. The deal didn't include the company’s cable TV channel, though IBM did retain rights to the name “Weather Channel.”
Sinclair has now emerged as a suitor for the TV network, though there is no guarantee a deal will be consummated. According to people familiar with the situation, a deal could be valued at around $100 million.
A Weather Channel spokesman declined to comment. Sinclair Broadcast Group didn't return calls seeking comment.
For Bain, Blackstone and NBCUniversal, a sale of the Weather Channel at the valuation being considered, combined with the IBM transaction, would highlight how the assets have weakened. The trio purchased the Weather Channel and its other assets in 2008 from Landmark Communications Inc. for about $3.5 billion.
For Sinclair, a Baltimore-based local television owner, the deal would be its second foray into cable programming this year. In January, it bought the Tennis Channel for $350 million. The Weather Channel is one of the largest distributed networks on the dial, with a reach of over 90 million homes.
Still, the long-term forecast for the Weather Channel isn't sunny. Once a must-have for pay-TV distributors, the network has lost some of its relevance thanks to changing technology and consumption habits. Ratings for the channel are tiny as consumers more often count on the internet and phone apps to keep tabs on the weather.
Efforts to boost ratings by adding entertainment content and hiring big name talent, including former “Good Morning America” weatherman Sam Champion, didn’t help. The company has had fights with large distributors over the past few years who felt the price tag for carrying it in cable and satellite packages was too high given the shrinking ratings.
Concerns about consumers cutting the cord to their pay-TV has made networks with smaller followings—and which aren’t part of bigger media conglomerates—more vulnerable to being dropped.
When IBM acquired the Weather Channel’s parent last October, it was telling that it didn't want the TV channel that was once the backbone of the company. Instead it bet on its popular Weather.com site and all the data it has compiled as well as its forecasting resources and technology.
Sinclair, which owns or operates 164 television stations in 79 markets, sees the asset as providing synergies with its local news and weather. However, it may have to persuade cable and satellite distributors to continue to distribute the channel. Typically when a channel changes ownership or goes through a major rebranding, it can open a window for distribution contracts to be reopened.
Source : wsj.com