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Liberty, News Corp. talk stock-asset swap

Denver firm may be eyeing int'l cable channels

NEW YORK — John Malone apparently is in “Let’s Make a Deal” mode with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

The Liberty Media chairman said in an interview with the Financial Times that Liberty was in active talks with News Corp. to swap News Corp. stock for international channels and programming assets. Malone would not specify particular properties, though there was speculation that the Denver-based firm may be eyeing international versions of News Corp.-owned National Geographic Channel or FX.

Liberty sources were not available for comment.

Malone, who recently upped his stake in Murdoch’s company to 17% (making Liberty the second largest shareholder after the Murdoch family), has been looking for ways to leverage his powerful equity position in the firm for key assets in the News Corp. portfolio. He has previously hinted that News Corp. had certain small assets that may fit well with Liberty’s burgeoning international cable business.

Liberty recently announced plans to spin off its overseas cable operations into a separately traded company, Liberty Media Intl., which will house its major Japanese and European holdings.

In the interview, Malone suggested that the spinoff and accompanying rights issue would provide up to $6 billion in new capital for possible acquisitions, primarily for international programming and cable system assets.

“There are certain small assets that we feel fit Liberty better than News Corp. We could exchange small amounts of our News Corp. shares back for these assets,” Malone told the Financial Times.

Liberty is under pressure to boost its dormant share price, with many investors complaining that the business is a hodgepodge of public and private assets without a cohesive growth strategy. The international spinoff is intended to simplify the company structure and spearhead further international expansion.

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