Scripps Networks 'closes on UKTV deal'
Wednesday, December 15 2010, 12:32 GMT
By Andrew Laughlin,

US cable broadcaster Scripps Networks is reportedly close to acquiring a 50% stake in UKTV, the operator of Dave, Watch and Good Food, in a $500m (£319m) deal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, sources close to the situation claimed that Scripps had entered exclusive talks with Virgin Media about buying its half of UKTV.

Scripps, which operates TV channels such as the Food Network and the Travel Channel, could agree the deal in the coming weeks, but the process could also fall down entirely, the sources said.

Negotiators are currently thrashing out a final price for the stake, with Virgin Media expecting to raise around £350 million from the sale to help reduce its corporate debt.

However, Discovery Communications and ITV are thought to be waiting in the wings should the talks break down.

Scripps has been actively seeking to expand its international operation, including the launch of the Food Network in the UK on digital satellite last year.

The UKTV stake would give the company a strong presence in the UK market, with a portfolio of well-established channels attracting around 36 million viewers every month.

Virgin Media, which formed UKTV with BBC Worldwide in 1997, has recently been offloading its content businesses, including the sale of Virgin Media Television to Sky in a £160m deal.

Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, has first refusal on the 50% UKTV shareholding, but is thought unlikely to pursue a complete acquisition.

Sources claim that Scripps and Worldwide have instead reached an agreement in principle about how the new UKTV joint venture would operate.