Rich Frank, the former top Disney TV exec, is going to buy a majority stake in C3, the programming venture he launched with cable giant Comcast Corp. in 1995.
Frank said Thursday his decision was spurred by a desire to be more aggressive in acquiring media properties and to have more flexibility to invest in programming ventures that weren’t high on Comcast’s agenda.
The terms of Frank’s original deal with Comcast gave him the option to acquire a majority stake in C3 after 2-1/2 years. Comcast will remain on board as an investor with a stake of less than 20%.
Previously, Frank owned less than 40% of C3. The company’s name, which stood for “Comcast Content and Communications,” is likely to be changed after the first of the year. Frank said he also hopes to bring in new “synergistic” outside investors.
“What’s happened in the years since we started C3 is that there has been unbelievable consolidation in the cable industry,” said Frank, who is also the immediate past president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
“When we started looking around at other things to get involved with, particularly on the foreign side, we found that our interests were not always aligned with Comcast’s,” he said. “We’ll have much more flexibility if they become a minority partner.”
Comcast prexy Brian Roberts concurred.
“We decided that this was the best way to make (C3) a win-win for both parties so that not every decision would have to be cable-centric,” said Roberts. “We’re completely comfortable with investing in Rich’s entrepreneurial skills.”
In January, Frank spearheaded Comcast’s $320 million acquisition of a majority stake in cabler E! Entertainment TV in partnership with Disney. But since then, the former studio TV chief is said to have been frustrated with the slow pace of decision- making at the Philadelphia-based cable system operator.
C3 is said to have had eyed buying stakes in the cablers Travel Channel, the TV Food Network and Classic Sports Networks, which were eventually scooped by Disney and Discovery Communications.
Financial terms of the transaction between Frank and Comcast were not disclosed, but Frank is likely to receive some compensation for his involvement in managing E! over the past year. Based on current prices fetched by similarly sized cablers, sources estimate the value of E! has risen from about $550 million in January to at least $750 million.
C3’s main assets are overall program development deals with Disney/ABC, Fox and NBC. The company has about 15 full-time employees, headed by chairman Frank and president Bob Crestani. This fall, C3 co-produced with Fox the short-lived syndie daytime strip “Home Team With Terry Bradshaw.”
New C3 projects in development include a syndie talkshow with James Carville and Mary Matalin and a gameshow, “Filthy Liars,” for Fox’s FX basic cabler.