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Crown Media in discussions to sell Hallmark

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MUMBAI: Crown Media Holdings which runs the Hallmark Channel is said to be talking to different groups of investors to sell the broadcasters international operations.



A Reuters report added that last year Crown Media's international operations lost $21 million on about $83 million of revenue. While Hallmark UK and South America have had offers it will be interesting to see if the Asia operations find any buyers. A couple of years ago the company had closed down its Singapore sales office.

It had also reduced the number feeds for the Asia Pacific region from seven to just two.



Crown Media realised at that time that it would be better off concentrating on trying to shore up the European market revenues and strengthening the US content offering.



In India, the channel is still struggling to make a mark despite original and high quality content. As reported a few months ago by indiantelevision.com, Hallmark had decided to stop taking ads in order to differentiate itself from other channels showing movies and mini-series.



What is also interesting from the India angle is the fact that HBO is said to be interested in Hallmark's Latin America business and in the international rights to its 700-title programme library. If that deal goes though then HBO in India could have more original content to crow about apart from, of course, its original movies like the recently aired The Gathering Storm and series like Sex & The City.



The Reuters report has gone on to state that one of the principal parties in the negotiations is David Elstein, who used to be Channel 5's CEO. The group of investors led by him is believed to have offered about $300 million for the entire Hallmark package. Other parties negotiating include private equity firms 3i Group and Providence Equity Partners.



Sources have also indicated that Crown Media is interested in getting Sony involved to counter Elstein's offer. What could prove to be a hurdle here is that Sony is looking at acquiring MGM, which it feels could be more

profitable.



Another person who could just throw his hat in the ring, at least as far as the UK is concerned, is media moghul Rupert Murdoch. In the past, pay TV operator BSkyB had expressed interested in Hallmark's UK channel. What has come in the way of the sale process is the market conditions. Also, Hallmark's long-term contractual obligations with the cable and satellite TV providers that broadcast the channel deterred some parties, including Viacom.



Not surprisingly Crown Media will keep and continue expanding Hallmark US, which is proving profitable. It reaches about 59 million viewers and has a slightly different line-up of shows from what air internationally. They include Matlock, Mash and The Waltons.

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