E! stations get shopped

Canwest is looking to shed five of its TV stations.

Just days after debt-laden Canwest Global Communications warned that a subsidiary may breach its debt covenants, the broadcaster on Thursday put five of its ailing conventional TV stations on the auction block.

Canwest said it retained RBC Capital Markets to shop five E! Entertainment-branded TV stations in Montreal (CJNT), Hamilton (CHCH), Red Deer, Alta. (CHCA), Kelowna, BC (CHBC) and Victoria, BC (CHEK). Left out of the possible sale are three affiliate E! stations owned by the Jim Pattison Group.

‘As they are currently configured, these stations are not core to our television operations going forward,’ Canwest CEO Leonard Asper said in a statement.

The broadcaster said selling the five TV stations is one option being considered as part of its strategic review of the E! network. However, Canwest would not be drawn on other possible scenarios.

‘There could be any number of outcomes. It’s too early to say what the outcome will be,’ insisted Canwest spokesman Walter Levitt.

On Jan. 14, the broadcaster indicated to financial analysts that it may have to consider shuttering the money-losing E! network, which relies in part for its programming on expensive US network series and a supply deal with Comcast Entertainment Group’s US-based E! Networks.

The decision to shop its E! TV stations is also being interpreted as a way to put pressure on the CRTC to loosen regulatory obligations for its conventional TV stations so that Canwest can better weather a growing recession and advertising slump.

Should it shed E!, Canwest would be left with its parallel Global Television network, which it aims to shift increasingly closer to its 13 specialty channels and digital media assets in pursuit of rapidly shifting ad dollars and audiences.

‘Canwest has come to the determination that operating a second conventional TV network in Canada is no longer key to the long-term success of our broadcasting business,’ Asper argued.

Levitt insisted RBC Capital Markets was retained only for a strategic review of the E! stations. He had no comment on persistent speculation that Canwest will be forced to sell other broadcast assets, including its controlling stake in Australia’s Network TEN, to raise much-needed cash in a worsening business environment.

Other assets possibly up for grabs include radio stations in Turkey and the Eyecorp outdoor advertising business in Australia, all purchased by Canwest in better times and on easier credit terms.

From Playback Daily