TBS May Still Turn to NBC or Cable Firms

Associated Press

The suspension of talks between Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and National Broadcasting Co. renews the question of how Turner will refinance its $1.4-billion debt.

National Broadcasting, which operates the NBC television network, had expressed interest in buying up to 25% of TBS, which owns Cable News Network, CNN Headline News and WTBS.

One analyst said the talks may resume. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they reach a meeting of the minds in the second half of the year," said Richard Bilotti, a bond analyst with L. F. Rothschild Inc.

But others said the cable operators who recently bought a 37% stake in the Atlanta-based company may provide additional money.

"They are the most logical players to step in with more money now," said Sharon Arbrust, an analyst with Paul Kagan Associates. "Additional equity has to come from somewhere."

Broke Off Negotiations Friday

If TBS doesn't make $38 million in dividend payments to its cable investors by April 30, the cable group will get another two seats on the board six months later.

NBC and TBS announced Friday that they had broken off negotiations.

"The price (Turner) sought for its shares hasn't made it possible to find an acceptable basis" for a deal, NBC said in a statement.

Last June, 18 cable companies bought a $560-million stake in Turner Broadcasting, getting seven seats on the 15-member TBS board in return. Founder and Chairman Ted Turner holds 51% of the company's voting shares.

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