AMC Networks in Talks to Buy Stake in BBC America

AMC Networks is in talks to acquire nearly a 50% stake in cabler BBC America.

The negotiations have been ongoing for some time and stemmed from co-production partnerships that AMC has had with the BBC for programs including the SundanceTV miniseries “Top of the Lake” and “The Honorable Woman,” which bows Thursday. Bloomberg first reported the talks on Wednesday.

BBC America, launched in 1998, is owned by BBC Worldwide, the for-profit arm of the U.K. pubcaster. AMC Networks declined to comment on the prospect of a deal. BBC Worldwide issued a brief statement: “BBC America has just recorded eight straight years of growth and has never been stronger in brand, ratings, advertising or critical acclaim. We do not comment on market rumors and speculation.”

Despite the Beeb’s global presence, BBC America is a small player in the U.S. TV scene that is in the throes of a consolidation boom among distributors and content owners. AMC Networks, controlled by New York’s Dolan family, is itself seen as an acquisition target.

If a deal comes to pass, BBC America would benefit by tapping into AMC Networks’ advertising and affiliate sales infrastructure, and AMC Networks’ execs would have a hand in helping to program BBC America but BBC Worldwide would maintain a tight grip on the overall brand, sources close to the situation said.

The companies are seen as a good fit with each other as AMC’s flagship cabler, as well as  SundanceTV, IFC, take a similar approach as BBC America to offering offbeat scripted programming aimed at upscale auds. AMC’s WeTV is also expanding into scripted fare.

SundanceTV is also partnered with BBC Worldwide on the production of another upcoming mini, “One Child,” about a Chinese woman adopted by Brits. SundanceTV  president and g.m. Sarah Barnett is a BBC alum.

BBC America’s buzziest original series at present is the fantasy drama “Orphan Black” (pictured). It is also the U.S. home of “Doctor Who.”

The prospective deal with BBC Worldwide could also offer benefits in other areas for AMC Networks, which made a big move last year to expand internationally with its $1 billion acquisition of Liberty Global’s Chellomedia channel group. That group, which has been renamed AMC Networks International, encompasses entertainment, sports, lifestyle and kidvid channels in 138 countries.

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