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Liberty, News Corp. in talks over stake

Conglom slashes debt, simplifies structure

Liberty Media CEO Robert Bennett said Tuesday the company has had conversations with News Corp. and will likely have more as the two companies look to unwind or otherwise address the huge voting stake Liberty has recently amassed in the Rupert Murdoch conglom.

Bennett once again insisted the stock buy “is not intended to be a hostile transaction to Rupert Murdoch or the Murdoch family.”

Speaking at the UBS Media Week investment conference in Gotham, he seemed to indicate that Liberty would be happy with cash in exchange for handing over the precious voting shares. But, he said, “the status quo is OK with us.”

Some investors are fretting that Murdoch might do just about anything to get Liberty chief John Malone off his back — including paying gobs of cash or agreeing to buy or partner with Liberty’s Starz Encore.

“They’ve got to remove this overhang,” said one fund manager.

Bennett also said the Liberty is continuing to evaluate a public offering for its programming business, including Starz and Discovery Communications. “We’ve toyed with a networks group … a pure play network company. That’s one scenario,” he said.

Liberty, searching for ways to boost its stock and reignite its love affair with Wall Street, has been slashing debt and simplifying its structure. Company has been converting its portfolio from a laundry list of passive investments to a handful of owned and operated companies. But Bennett said the market hasn’t responded and that splitting up the company by spinning out assets may be a way to realize value.

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