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AMC Networks Said to Discuss BBC America Stake

AMC Networks Inc., the cable programmer controlled by the Dolan family, is in talks to acquire almost 50 percent of BBC America, BBC Worldwide’s U.S. channel, people with knowledge of the matter said.

BBC Worldwide is the commercial arm of the British Broadcasting Corp., the government-backed U.K. broadcaster. It’s interested in a partnership that lets BBC America use AMC’s advertising sales and distribution network, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. A deal isn’t assured, the people said.

AMC would pay cash for the stake, said one person. A partnership would let BBC Worldwide keep majority ownership of the channel and control the brand, while cutting costs and tapping AMC’s programming team, the people said. AMC and BBC have co-produced shows including “The Honorable Woman,” an eight-part series starting tomorrow on AMC’s SundanceTV.

With cable, telecom and satellite-TV services merging, programmers like New York-based AMC, home to “Mad Men” and “Walking Dead,” are weighing how to adapt to a changing media landscape. Deals such as Comcast Corp.’s purchase of Time Warner Cable Inc. are challenging network owners to grow to gain leverage in negotiations with pay-TV systems. AMC bought Chellomedia in October for 750 million euros ($1.04 billion).

TV Homes

BBC America is available in about 80 million U.S. households. AMC Networks would negotiate new fee arrangements for BBC America with pay-TV providers, along with its own networks -- AMC, WE tv, IFC and SundanceTV, the people said.

Jim Maiella, an AMC spokesman, declined to comment. A BBC Worldwide spokeswoman declined to comment.

BBC America is probably worth about $200 million, according to Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Securities in New York, similar to the value of Fuse TV, which NuvoTV agreed to buy earlier this year. Fuse had a distribution of about 73 million U.S. households at the time of the deal.

AMC Networks has a market valuation of about $4.41 billion. It is run by Chief Executive Officer Josh Sapan and controlled by Charles Dolan and his family through their ownership of stock with added voting rights.

BBC America was established in 1998 and airs shows including “Doctor Who,” “Orphan Black” and “Planet Earth.” It’s part of a much larger organization that includes multiple TV and radio networks, news and TV production, and a commercial arm. The BBC is funded by U.K. residents through an annual license fee charged to households that own televisions.

In March, the London-based parent announced plans to shut down the youth-oriented BBC Three channel and reintroduce the service online in a cost-saving move.

AMC Networks fell 0.4 percent to $61.06 yesterday in New York. The stock had fallen 10 percent this year.

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