A Family scramble

Congloms duke it out for IFE as price climbs

NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. will make final bids for Intl. Family Entertainment Inc. early this week, but already the price has risen to an eye-popping $1.8 billion, sources said.

News Corp. is thought to have an edge in the bidding, but sources said Friday that Disney remained a strong contender. An unexpected bidder, Viacom Inc., which quietly took a look at IFE in recent weeks, is believed to have withdrawn. Neither Viacom nor Disney would comment Friday, and a News Corp. rep couldn’t be reached for comment.

Price climbing

The contest has driven up the price sharply for whoever wins. News Corp. was earlier reported to have been bidding about $28 a share but the $1.8 billion price suggests the final price will be at least $37 a share.

IFE stock jumped $2 last week to close at $27.87 after reports surfaced that Disney was considering making a bid of at least $30 a share.

While reports that the deal was close to being done have surfaced periodically in recent weeks, IFE chairman Pat Robertson told Reuters Thursday night he expected a deal would be struck “in several days.” Robertson’s comments were made at a dinner honoring Murdoch as humanitarian of the year.

Still, there is no guarantee a last-minute hitch won’t derail the deal again. Negotiations to buy IFE have been dragging on for months, delayed by the complexities of the supervoting stock held by the Robertson family and the varying interests of the charities that control some of the stoc

No guarantees

Aside from the Robertson family, which owns all the supervoting stock and 4% of the common stock, the Christian Broadcasting Network and Regent U. — both connected to the Robertsons — own 23%.

The other major shareholders are Tele-Communications Inc.’s Liberty Media, which has 21%, money manager Mario Gabelli (16%) and Capital Research, which has 12.2%.

Wall Street sources say the talks have also been complicated by other deals being discussed between Liberty and News Corp.

If News Corp. wins control of IFE, Murdoch is expected to use the Family Channel’s daytime schedule to broadcast Fox Kids programming. It is not clear what Disney plans to do with the Family Channel, as the Disney Channel has similar programming.

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