Burchill exits Lifetime to buy interest in Petry

Petry Inc., the nation’s third highest-billing station rep firm, is expected to announce today that Thomas F. Burchill will buy out Petry chairman David S. Allen’s majority interest in the company.

Burchill is stepping down as prexy-CEO of Lifetime Television and the entity that oversees it, Hearst-ABC-Viacom Entertainment Services, to take over the rep firm.

The odds-on-favorite to succeed Burchill at the cable network is Lifetime executive VP Doug McCormick.

Allen, who also holds the title of Petry president, reportedly will remain in his position with the company for an unspecified period. He owns a substantial percentage of the firm, with the remaining ownership shares said to be spread among top management.

Petry declined to comment yesterday and reps for Lifetime could not be reached at press time.

Terms of the deal–which comes a year after Katz bought Seltel for an estimated $ 15 million–and the source of Burchill’s financing could not be determined yesterday. Sources ruled out Lifetime as a backer.

The Petry rep firm bills slightly more than $ 800 millionannually, ranking behind Katz (which combined with Seltel has nearly $ 1.2 billion in billings) and TeleRep Inc. ($ 1 billion-plus).

In terms of the number of stations represented by the rep firm, Petry stands behind Katz, Blair and TeleRep. But Petry has more indies on its client list than most, many in big markets, which provide it with more time to program and sell than some competitors.

Petry has long been rumored to be on the market. Burchill, who worked for Petry in the 1960s, had at one time sought to purchase at least one other rep firm, per industry sources.

During Burchill’s nine-year tenure, Lifetime has grown into the nation’s fifth-largest basic cable service, with 58 million subscribers.

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