TURNER REPORTEDLY IN DISCUSSIONS WITH MICROSOFT'S GATES
Turner Broadcasting is reportedly holding "serious
discussions" with Microsoft about selling a $1B-$2B stake that
would help Turner make a bid for CBS Inc., according to the L.A.
TIMES. Jane Hall and Leslie Helm report that sources say Ted
Turner and Microsoft Chair Bill Gates "met recently in the
Seattle area along with several top executives of their companies
to discuss their plans."
IT'S ALL ABOUT CONTENT: Gates is "said to be interested in
having access to video material and the brand names" of CNN and
other TBS properties for use in its Microsoft Network. "Access
to CNN news feeds would give Microsoft a continuing stream of
fresh material" for MSN. In May, Microsoft signed an agreement
with NBC to give it access to NBC programming (L.A. TIMES, 8/12).
Part of the NBC deal will give MSN customers access to NBC Sports
offerings -- including Olympics, the NFL, golf, NBA and Notre
Dame football (INSIDE MEDIA, 8/2-9/5 issue).
MINORITY INVESTMENT, BIG PULL: TCI, which has a 21% stake
in TBS, is said to be supportive of Turner's pursuit of CBS. TCI
recently paid $125M for a 20% investment in the Microsoft
Network. Hall and Helm note, "The investment by Gates, plus the
backing of [TCI Chair John] Malone would strengthen Turner's hand
in a bid for CBS" (L.A. TIMES, 8/12). In this morning's N.Y.
TIMES, Geraldine Fabrikant writes "some analysts assume it was
Mr. Malone who brought Mr. Turner and Mr. Gates together" (N.Y.
TIMES, 8/14). However, Time Warner, which owns 19% of TBS, has
been opposed to Turner's quest to buy a network, and holds three
seats on Turner's board. Hall and Helm write, "It is unclear
whether Time Warner could block an investment by Gates in Turner
Broadcasting." Sources say Microsoft's involvement is "not a
direct attempt by Gates to by Time Warner's stake in Turner"
(L.A. TIMES, 8/12).
LONE WOLF: Westinghouse plans "to go solo" in its $5.4B bid
for CBS, with "no active negotiations with potential partners,"
according to this morning's N.Y. POST. A report by BLOOMBERG
BUSINESS NEWS notes that "contrary to media speculation,
Westinghouse didn't agree to buy CBS with the notion that it
needed or even wanted a partner" (N.Y. POST, 8/14). Turner and
Malone have reportedly talked with Westinghouse Chair Michael
Jordan, according to the latest BUSINESS WEEK. For such a deal
to work, Turner would have to buy out Time Warner's stake --
valued at $1.2B -- for $1.6B. However, "most on Wall Street
think it's unlikely" Turner will be successful because of the
$150M breakup clause in Westinghouse's deal and because CBS Chair
Laurence Tisch "is no Turner fan" (BUSINESS WEEK, 8/21 issue).