News Corp. circling stake in Rotana

Murdoch moves in on media conglom

VENICE — Rupert Murdoch has moved a step closer to acquiring a stake in Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal’s Rotana media conglom.

News Corp. and Rotana execs are holding meetings in London about the linkup, which has been brewing since the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

Execs also met earlier this summer in Cairo to undergo due diligence and attempt to reach agreement on the value of the stake that News Corp. would take in Rotana.

“The deal hasn’t closed yet, but the signs are promising,” said one Rotana exec who wished to remain anonymous. “If it goes through, this will be all positive for Rotana. We will be able to draw on the expertise of people from News Corp. and its Fox division in the Middle East.”

The size of the stake is believed to be $250 million-$350 million.

It would also mark a further deepening of the strategic partnership between Murdoch and Prince Al Waleed, who is a substantial investor in News Corp.

Fox and Rotana have a longstanding relationship. The companies launched two Fox-branded, English-language channels in the Middle East last summer, and Rotana distributes Fox fare on DVD in the Middle East.

Any deal between News Corp. and Rotana will help ease Al Waleed’s cash flow. While the billionaire remains one of the Middle East’s most successful businessmen, his investments have been hit hard by the recession, particularly his large stake in Citigroup.

A stake in Rotana would also help News Corp. increase its presence in the Middle East as it seeks to exploit new markets and sources of revenue.

Fox is making its first Arabic-lingo feature, “Samba,” with Moroccan helmer Hicham Ayouch.

Pic is about a Moroccan man obsessed with a Brazilian telenovela star who teaches a samba dance class to a host of doting young femmes. His life takes a turn for the worse when his mother hires an imam to cure her son’s obsession. “Samba” is currently casting.

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