Looks like one of the last few "independent" cable networks is about to be gobbled up by te media conglomerates. But, are they after the cable channel or the website?
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/03/business/media/03weather.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin Chain Said to Seek Bids for Weather Channel By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN Published: January 3, 2008The Weather Channel, one of the last privately owned cable channels, is being put up for sale and could fetch more than $5 billion, according to people briefed on the auction. The channel and its rapidly growing Web site, weather.com, are already attracting interest from some of the biggest names in media, including NBC, a unit of General Electric; the News Corporation; and Comcast, these people said.
The sale of the Weather Channel, these people said, is part of a larger breakup of its parent, Landmark Communications, a privately held company controlled by the Batten family of Norfolk, Va., which also owns daily newspapers and other media properties. Landmark's newspaper holdings include The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, The News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., and The Roanoke Times in Virginia, as well as 50 other community newspapers. The company, which does not release its earnings, generated $1.75 billion in revenue in 2006 and has 12,000 employees, according to Hoover's.
JPMorgan Chase is advising Landmark on the sale of the Weather Channel, and Lehman Brothers is advising the company on the sale of its other media assets, people briefed on the process said.
A spokesman for Landmark could not be reached.The sale of the Weather Channel, once written off as a dull network for weather buffs, could become especially heated as it is one of the few remaining basic cable channels available for sale. One potential suitor approached by Landmark described the Weather Channel as "beachfront property."
Its audience has mushroomed as the channel has expanded its coverage of hurricanes and others storms around the world and created programming about climate change, taking an aggressive and sometimes controversial role in the global warming debate.
The channel is also a godsend for advertisers. Like live sports, it is largely immune from TiVos and other digital video recorders. The channel has 800 employees; 125 are meteorologists. Perhaps more appealing for some big media companies may be the Weather Channel's Web business, which was started in 1995. Weather.com ranks as the nation's 18th-largest media site by traffic, with more than 32 million unique users in November, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. That is bigger than CNN and Facebook.
Weather.com has partnerships with dozens of big media companies. In October, the site struck a deal to provide forecasts to MySpace, a unit of the News Corporation. The company also has deals with Yahoo and AOL.
Among the Weather Channel's suitors, NBC is expected to compete aggressively, people involved in the auction said. NBC has a weather-related unit called NBC Weather Plus, a joint project of NBC News and NBC affiliates, but the venture has never taken off. NBC Weather Plus includes a cable channel, frequently available only on digital cable platforms and high on the dial, along with a Web site, weatherplus.com.
Fox, a unit of the News Corporation, has also expressed interest in the Weather Channel, which it could link with its Fox News cable channel and its hundreds of affiliates. Other big media companies like Comcast, which is increasingly looking to add content, may participate in the auction as well. Time Warner and perhaps even Yahoo could also jump in.
Media companies have expressed interest in the Weather Channel before. In an interview last June, Debora J. Wilson, the Weather Channel's chief executive, said: "Every media conglomeration has approached Landmark, and there's never been a yes. We actually think that we're stronger being independent." Ms. Wilson added that she was glad to avoid the "distractions" that would come with being part of a larger company. "We like focusing on what we do."
The breakup and sale of Landmark Communications would spell the end of a small but storied fixture in the media landscape. The company was formed at the turn of the 20th century when Samuel L. Slover acquired The Newport News Times-Herald in Virginia. Mr. Slover's nephew, Frank Batten, the former chairman, took over the company in 1954. Over the years, Mr. Batten bought and sold newspapers and television affiliates in the South and Midwest.
It is unclear how big the appetite will be for the company's remaining newspaper assets, though community newspapers have fared much better than large dailies in recent years.
Of course, Mr. Batten's best investment was the creation of the Weather Channel in 1982. In his memoir, "The Weather Channel: The Improbable Rise of a Media Phenomenon," Mr. Batten wrote: "Our first year was full of crises and a full-fledged near-death experience," but eventually "narrowcasting - the long-delayed potential of cable television - has become a reality."
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