Mouse House eyeing IFE

Disney follows News in bid for cabler as stock jumps to $27

NEW YORK — Stock in International Family Entertainment Inc. jumped $1.37 to $27 Tuesday on reports that Walt Disney Co. had joined News Corp. in bidding for the company.

Wall Street sources confirmed that Disney was taking a look at IFE, indicating an interest in making a bid above $30 a share, or $1.4 billion, compared to the price of around $28 that News Corp. has reportedly offered. Neither Disney nor IFE would comment Tuesday.

It is not clear how seriously Disney is pursuing IFE. The Mouse House already has the Disney Channel on cable systems, targeting a similar audience to the Family Channel, although Disney Channel is currently converting from pay to basic status.

New strategy

Disney is also looking for a new programming strategy for the Disney Channel, prompting some insiders to question why it would go after the Family Channel when it has not yet figured out its existing cable network.

Still, the Mouse House is believed to have talked with IFE chairman Pat Robertson and CEO Tim Robertson, whose family controls the company’s voting stock, some time ago about a potential deal but abandoned the talks because of the Robertsons’ insistence on retaining control.

Reports that the Robertsons have agreed to cede control in a deal with News Corp. may have prompted Disney to re-enter the negotiations, sources said. But Wall Streeters said it was also uncharacteristic of Disney to outbid another buyer because the Mouse House is usually conservative about the price it pays for acquisitions.

Some on Wall Street believe word of Disney’s interest may have been leaked to put pressure on News Corp., which some sources say is close to finalizing a deal.

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