Elstein closes in on Hallmark int’l biz

Ex-topper of Blighty's C5 likely to pay $900 mil

LONDON — Speculation is mounting that U.K. topper David Elstein’s much-anticipated purchase of the Hallmark Channel’s international business is on the verge of being signed.

“I think a deal will be done before the end of the month,” said an industry insider.

How much Elstein and his backers, who are understood to include ex-Hallmark executive Mark Grenside, are paying is not clear, but it is likely to be in the region of £500 million ($900 million).

However, gossip linking Elstein’s bid, first reported in July, for all of Hallmark Channel’s non-U.S. TV operations, to ex-BBC helmers Greg Dyke and Rupert Gavin look unfounded. “I am not involved at all,” said Dyke.

Elstein, a former CEO of Channel Five and senior executive at satcaster BSkyB and Thames Television, is one of Blighty’s most experienced (and conspicuously clever) entertainment industry high flyers.

If he does land Hallmark Channel’s international business, it will give him control of the U.K. Hallmark Channel, and associated webs in more than 120 countries, plus a 700-strong film library that includes “Alice in Wonderland” and “Gulliver’s Travels.”

The business is currently run by Crown Media Holdings, which operates the outfit on behalf of parent company Hallmark Entertainment.

It has been reported that Sony was also interested in adding the Hallmark Channel to its assets.