Trio discuss network venture

Will A&E, History and Lifetime join forces?

Disney, NBC Universal and Hearst Corp. are discussing the creation of a joint venture that would put cablers A&E Network, History and Lifetime under the same umbrella.

Disney-ABC TV and Hearst each own 37.5% in A&E Television Networks, while NBC U holds the remaining 25%. Lifetime is run by a 50-50 joint venture of Hearst and Disney.

“There is some discussion of taking A&E, History and Lifetime and putting them together with the same three players,” said one source close to talks. Hearst and Disney also jointly own ESPN, though the sports behemoth is not thought to be part of the discussion. Another executive said a deal would likely be made within the month.

A&E Television Networks owns brands including A&E Network, History Channel, Bio, Military History, Crime & Investigation and History en Espanol, while Lifetime also operates Lifetime Movie Network. The partners have been discussing a possible deal for the past 12 months, but one obstacle has been the difficulty of putting a value on the individual channels in a down marketplace for media assets.

The partnership would appear to fit well with NBC U’s strategy of targeting female consumers via a cross-the-board corporate effort dubbed Women@NBCU. Owning a piece of Lifetime could also help the Peacock goose traffic for its femme-centric iVillage website.

A deal to bring NBC U into the Lifetime fold would give Peacock CEO Jeff Zucker the last laugh in the rights battle over the hit reality series “Project Runway,” which relocates from NBC U’s Bravo to Lifetime in August after a long legal fight.

A spokesman for Hearst would not comment other than to say: “We have many partners and are constantly reviewing our businesses.”

(Claire Atkinson writes for Daily Variety sister publication Broadcasting & Cable.)

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