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Gotham or nothing

Cablevision set to deal all non-N.Y. assets

NEW YORK — Cablevision Systems, the sixth biggest cable company, is looking to sell, swap or form a partnership for all of its non-New York area cable systems — systems that could be worth as much as $3.5 billion.

Cablevision, which has in recent years focused on a New York-centric strategy, said it is “pursuing strategic alternatives” for its systems in greater Boston (354,000 subscribers), Cleveland (311,000 subs) and Kalamazoo, Mich. (49,000 subs).

With cable systems trading as high as $5,000 per subscriber, these systems could be worth a total of $3.5 billion.

Cablevision, a publicly traded company controlled by Charles Dolan and son James Dolan, said it will use the money from outright sale or cash gained by partnership arrangements to improve the company’s balance sheet by reducing its level of debt.

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Cablevision has set a short deadline of November by which to cut deals for its non-New York area properties.

A likely buyer for Cablevision’s Boston-area systems would be AT&T Broadband Internet Services. Cabler MediaOne currently owns Massachusetts systems near Boston, but AT&T is in the process of purchasing MediaOne.

AT&T and Cablevision are already business partners. AT&T owns one-third of the Beth Page, N.Y.-based Cablevision.

Time Warner would seem an obvious bidder for Cablevision’s Cleveland system. However, Paul Allen’s Charter Communications and cabler Adelphia have also been on buying binges lately.

Earlier this year, Cablevision signaled to analysts that it might part with its non-New York systems to concentrate on its Gotham strategy.

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In addition to serving 2.8 million cable subscribers in the New York area, Cablevision owns the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, electronics retailer the Wiz, Clearview Cinemas, Fox Sports Net New York, MSG Network, News 12 and the MetroChannels.

“Concentrating on one market where Cablevision has live and televised sports and entertainment offerings backed by a state-of-the-art broadband network will allow the company to execute an aggressive, competitive strategy,” James Dolan said.

Bear, Stearns & Co. and Merrill Lynch have been retained to advise the company.

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