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Sony-TCI lead Telemundo race

NEW YORK — A partnership of Sony Pictures, Tele-Communications Inc. and the Apollo Group is the front-runner in the bidding for Spanish-lingo broadcaster Telemundo Group, sources said Tuesday.

Two other companies are known to have submitted bids by Monday’s deadline: a partnership of Clear Channel Communications and Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca and News Corp. in partnership with two financial investors.

The bidding is thought to be competitive and could push the price to $47 a share, or $660 million, sources said.

Apollo’s presence with Sony-TCI gives that group an edge because Apollo is already one of the controlling shareholders in Telemundo. Apollo is part of a group of financial investors that own a total of 40% of Telemundo’s stock and have agreed to vote their stock as a block.

Telemundo had always said it was seeking a strategic partner to help provide programming, rather than trying to sell the entire company. Nevertheless, sources say the offers are for the entire company, suggesting Apollo may be planning to retain its stake if Sony-TCI wins.

Whether Apollo’s presence with the Sony-TCI group will be decisive is uncertain. The board will likely accept the highest offer and its not clear whether Sony-TCI is bidding more aggressively than the other two.

Telemundo’s board has scheduled a board meeting for Friday to make a decision on the offers, sources said.

Telemundo is believed to have been seeking $40 a share but most analysts said the company, which owns a string of eight TV stations in major U.S. markets, is not worth any more than $37 to $38 a share. People close to the bidding said the price now looked as though it could reach $47 a share. Telemundo stock rose 37¢ to $36.87 Tuesday.

Sony has a Latin American cable channel and could use programming from that channel on Telemundo’s stations. News Corp.’s Fox, which also has a Latin American satellite interest, is thought to have a similar plan.

Clear Channel-Azteca has strong Latin American interests. Azteca has both its Mexican broadcasting interests and a production deal with Telemundo while Clear Channel controls Spanish-lingo radio broadcaster Heftel.

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