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TV Guide Network sale ramps up

Lionsgate, JP Morgan seek to unload cabler, website

Lionsgate and JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s One Equity Partners wing are stepping up their efforts to find a buyer for the TV Guide Network cabler and TVGuide.com website.

The partners have quietly shopped the cabler for months but the sale activity is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks. Sources close to the situation said there’s still a chance that One Equity, the private investment arm of JP Morgan, could buy out Lionsgate’s 51% stake stake or vice versa, though both sides appear to be leaning toward selling it outright.

A rep for Lionsgate declined comment Monday.

The partners distributed briefing books to prospective buyers late last year. The hope is that the sale process could wrap up by March.

It’s unclear how much TV Guide Network might fetch. The channel is widely distribbed in more than 80 million cable/satellite homes, but its viewership remains anemic despite efforts to add original reality series and acquisitions of off-network fare including ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and the Lionsgate-produced Showtime laffer “Weeds.”

Lionsgate bought the cabler and website in February 2009 for $255 million. By May of that year, Lionsgate had sold a 49% stake in the assets for $125 million to One Equity and investor Allen Shapiro, who had been in pursuit of TV Guide at the same time Lionsgate made its bid.

Three years later, Lionsgate is honing its focus on core film and TV production assets, especially on the heels of its $412.5 million acquisition of Summit Entertainment. TV Guide generates positive cash flow but will require much more investment to become a player among general entertainment cablers. Lionsgate and One Equity have made strides in coverting the channel from a listings-focused service to a traditional linear channel, and they have inked new carriage pacts with key operators including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

The property has drawn some interest from private equity players this time around. None of the majors took a run at it when TV Guide was put up for sale at a fire-sale price in 2008 by then-owner Macrovision, so it would be a surprise to see any of them step up now.

One private shingle that might be interested in the TV Guide website is L.A.-based OpenGate Capital, which bought the TV Guide print magazine in 2008. Ever since the assets were split up, the cabler and the print mag have had separate web staffs, though the content for the cabler and the magazine runs on the same TVGuide.com site.

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