Disney may buy more cable, not TV stations

Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger said last week that his company is open to additional basic cable television channel buys, but not to broadcast television stations. He made the comments to investors at a conference hosted by researcher Sanford C. Bernstein.

Iger vowed to increase Disney’s 50 percent stake in Lifetime Networks and 37.5 percent stake in A&E, although nothing is imminent. “We’ve talked about it over time and seeing whether there is a way to restructure in some fashion,” he said, “and we will continue to explore those discussions.”

Disney also wants to purchase the remaining 20 percent of ESPN, which is owned by Hearst. However, Iger said, that stake would probably be too expensive.

Disney now looks at every basic cable network that is up for sale. “But if we were to step up [to buy], it would be with great caution. We are fairly rigorous,” he said. The company is seeking a focused cable brand, rather than general entertainment cable networks.

Disney has little interest in buying more TV stations to augment ABC, given that broadcast television growth prospects are cloudy, and its existing 10 O&O stations are “solid,” Iger noted. His company is committed to broadcasting because it can generate reasonable profits from program creation.

“If we were not in the studio business in this day and age, it would be pretty challenging” being in the broadcast business, Iger noted.