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New Scripps Eyes Travel Channel - 17-September-2009, 09:10

Scripps Eyes Travel Channel
Keeping Tabs On Tribune's 31% Stake In Food Network
Mike Farrell 9/16/2009 2:24:41 PM EDT

Travel Channel series Bridget's Sexiest Beaches

New York Scripps Networks Interactive is in the hunt for cable programming assets, including its own, chief financial officer Joe NeCastro told an audience at an industry conference here Wednesday.

NeCastro, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, said that the cable programmer is among those looking at the Travel Channel, which went up for auction earlier this year, but is also keeping its powder dry for the potential of acquiring the remaining 31% interest in the Food Network it doesn't own. That stake is currently held by bankrupt Tribune Co.

Bridget's Sexiest Beaches

NeCastro said that the Travel Channel would fit well with Scripps' current cable holdings - HGTV, Food Network, Fine Living, DIY and Great American Country.

"Given the nature of that net, the size of it and the genre that it is in, it makes a lot of sense for us to take a look at it," NeCastro said, adding that Scripps would not overpay for the asset. "That's the hard work right now, to try and dig in and figure out if A) it can be acquired at a reasonable price and B) whether there would be anything left to invest in SNI."

While Scripps may be eyeing Travel -- along with several other players, including Time Warner Inc., News Corp., NBC Universal, Comcast and private equity groups like Providence Equity -- NeCastro said that the company also has its eye on another network.
"There is a cable asset out there that we like very much and we own 69% of it already," NeCastro said of Food Network. "That is always at the back of our minds when we think of capacity. That is probably priority No. 1. If we were thinking about investing, that would probably be it."
Food Network has been one of Scripps's highest growth assets. NeCastro added that one roadblock to any potential deal would be the price of the interest.
"We have a sense of what we think its worth, based on our outlook for the asset," NeCastro said. "They [Tribune] probably have their own. They may believe its worth more than we think it is, in which case we'll never get any thing done. But I do believe that the dynamics facing Tribune post bankruptcy will be different and we'll have to see how that plays out - whether they're going to be a private company or a public company and what the objectives of their new owners will be. We'll have to see how that plays out."

Tribune, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, was one of the original founders of the Food Network when it launched in 1993.

Scripps has coveted the Tribune interest for years, but has been unable to reach a deal. Troubled Tribune, however, has sold off other once off-limits assets - it reached an agreement to sell the Chicago Cubs major league baseball team to the Ricketts family earlier this year for $845 million. That deal is pending approvals from the bankruptcy court and Major League Baseball.

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