Did Seagram gaffe seal HSN-Ticketmaster deal?

NEW YORK — Wall Street analysts listening in to the HSN/Seagram Co. conference call Oct. 20 about their television deal got what appeared to be an early Christmas present. Seagram vice chairman Bob Matschullat blurted out HSN’s intention to buy the 49% of Ticketmaster Group not already owned, a piece of news that wouldn’t become public for another three days.

HSN chairman Barry Diller jumped in immediately and cautioned listeners to the call that HSN hadn’t quite decided on such a move, sources say. But the damage had been done. Ticketmaster’s stock price, already trading in anticipation of such a deal, leapt 6% immediately.

It’s not clear how definite the Ticketmaster offer was when Matschullat mentioned it. Diller told investors at a Bear Stearns conference Wednesday evening, the day before the deal was announced, that HSN had gone back and forth on the issue before Matschullat’s slip forced a decision on the issue, according to people who were present.

But other sources close to both Ticketmaster and HSN discount this version of events. These sources say HSN was clearly contemplating a bid for some time, as HSN had said so in an SEC filing several weeks ago.

These sources say the timing was affected more by HSN’s stock price, which shot up in the days after the Universal deal was announced. HSN is offering its stock in exchange for Ticketmaster stock, so the price rise made the deal more affordable.

Whatever the case, some of the people who bought Ticketmaster stock after hearing Matschullat’s comments may regret it. The stock jumped to a high of $25.00 from $23.50 afterwards but the bid came in slightly lower and forced Ticketmaster’s stock price back down to $23.50.

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