Landmark in direct talks on Weather Channel: sources

NEW YORK Fri Jun 6, 2008 1:07pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Weather Channel owner Landmark Communications is in direct talks Time Warner Inc and a rival group made up of NBC Universal, Blackstone Group LP and Bain Capital to sell the cable network, sources said Friday.

No more formal bids are expected for the network, which produces national, regional and local weather-related programs, but the two sides are negotiating for the best contract and the best price, sources familiar with the matter said.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that another round of bids were due on Friday, but people familiar with the matter said that was not the case.

A decision will probably be made in the next few days, one source said.

Separately, Time Warner Chief Financial Officer John Martin told investors the company is interested in buying the Weather Channel, but would be cautious about the price.

"A combined CNN-Weather would give us a very, very interesting cross-platform play in an online play," Martin said on Thursday.

"Having said that ... we are going to be extremely price disciplined and price sensitive on this. At a certain level it might make sense."

Time Warner, Blackstone and Landmark declined comment, while NBC and Bain Capital were not immediately reachable for comment.

Privately held Landmark Communications, which put the channel up for sale along with other businesses, originally sought $5 billion for the asset, sources have said. But the winning bid is expected to be under $4 billion and probably closer to $3.5 billion.

For General Electric Co's, NBC Universal, the Weather Channel could be combined with its own digital weather network NBC Weather Plus.

FINANCING

NBC, Blackstone and Bain would split $1.8 billion of equity roughly equally in the bid, which would be worth about $3.5 billion, including debt, sources previously told Reuters.

Blackstone's GSO Capital -- a hedge fund firm specializing in leveraged debt -- would provide about $600 million in debt, another source told Reuters last week.

Weather Channel's time-sensitive broadcasts and programming about hot-button issues on the environment have proven to be attractive to audiences and advertisers.

The network has more than 96 million U.S. subscribers and can be seen in more than 97 percent of all cable TV homes nationwide.

The Weather Channel's website attracts about 35 million unique users each month, Landmark has said. That puts it among the Web's 20 most popular sites and the top destination for online weather, news and information.

(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg; Editing by Andre Grenon)