CanWest circles Cox’s Rysher

B'caster beefing up production cache

Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global Communications has emerged as a surprise contender to buy TV production-distribution outfit Rysher Entertainment from Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.

CanWest, which owns Canada’s private Global Television Network as well as TV assets in Australia and New Zealand, has been on an acquisition hunt in recent months and is understood to be looking to beef up its production holdings.

Reps for Winnipeg-based CanWest and Rysher declined to comment for this story. Sources close to the situation say the two companies have had on-again/off-again talks for several months. CanWest’s interest in Rysher is viewed as a strong signal that the company aims to expand into the U.S. TV market, where Rysher is one of the top indies producing for network, syndie and cable distribs.

Value set

Rysher has been valued at about $400 million by investment banker Allen & Co., which is handling the sale for Cox. Cox prefers to sell Rysher as a unit rather than a piecemeal sale of its assets. CanWest presumably would keep the company’s U.S. production-distribution infrastructure intact, which could make a CanWest offer more attractive to Cox.

However, sources close to the situation cautioned that any deal involving Rysher is still weeks away. Sony Pictures Entertainment is said to be among the majors still kicking the tires on Rysher.

One observer of Canada’s evolving media landscape said CanWest’s pursuit of Rysher makes “perfect sense.” The company’s Global Television broadcast web — the Canuck home of “Seinfeld” — and its Global Prime cabler would be natural outlets for Rysher productions, which include CBS’ Don Johnson starrer “Nash Bridges” and HBO’s acclaimed drama “Oz.”

Buying power

In May, CanWest shelled out $28 million for a controlling interest in Toronto-based Fireworks Entertainment, producer of the hit USA Network series “La Femme Nikita.” Interestingly, Rysher already has ties to Fireworks as the companies are co-producing the new action series “Highlander: The Raven.”

CanWest also has been in a drawn-out battle to take control of Canadian broadcaster Western Intl. Communications, whose TV stations in Alberta and other territories would mesh nicely with CanWest’s existing station group.

(Tamsen Tillson in Toronto contributed to this report)

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