New bids for Telemundo

NEW YORK — Bidders for Spanish-lingo broadcaster Telemundo Group Inc. were asked to submit new bids Friday, prompting negotiations that continued through the weekend, with a decision on the winning bidder possible today, people close to the situation said Sunday.

Sony-TCI-Apollo Group is believed to have the edge, sources said, although Clear Channel-TV Azteca also had bid aggressively. News Corp. was believed to have dropped out Friday, although this could not be confirmed. News Corp. was bidding with two Boston-based financial investors, Abry Partners and Thomas Lee.

Apollo’s role as a significant shareholder and a member of one of the bidding groups complicated the situation, sources said. Apollo and another significant shareholder, Bastion Capital, are part of a block of shareholders that owns 40% of the stock, although one of the members of the group — Telemundo CEO Roland Hernandez — is not participating in the bid.

Sources said some of the bidders had complained to Telemundo that Apollo’s participation meant the process was not neutral. But Hernandez insisted the board would consider all bids equally, with Apollo and Bastion excluded from the deliberations.

The first deadline for offers was Nov. 17 and Telemundo’s board met Friday to consider the bids, subsequently making the request for new bids, sources said.

Whoever wins, the auction is believed to have pushed the price to just north of $42 per share, equivalent to about $700 million. Telemundo owns eight full-powered TV stations in several major markets, but has been seeking a strategic partner to improve its programming and its ratings, which have slipped well below those of its main rival Univision.

All the bidders have strategic reasons for buying Telemundo. Clear Channel controls Spanish-lingo radio group Heftel, while TV Azteca is a Mexican broadcaster that has a production deal with Telemundo. Sony owns a Latin American cable channel and TCI has said it wanted to put more money into Latin American programming.

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