AETN Makes Deal of a Lifetime

As expected, Lifetime Entertainment Services will become part of A&E Television Networks this fall.

AETN has acquired the women's programmer, which will retain the name Lifetime Entertainment Services LLC as a subsidiary of AETN.

AETN CEO Abbe Raven will serve as head of the combined company following the closing, while Andrea Wong, CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services, will continue to head the Lifetime Networks and report to Raven following the closing.

Bob DeBitetto, president and general manager of A&E Network and Bio, and Nancy Dubuc, president and general manager of History and History International, will both continue to report to Raven and run their respective networks.

The deal, financial terms of which were not disclosed, is subject to customary closing conditions. In a staff memo, Raven said the deal was expected to close by the end of September.

Broadcasting & Cable first reported news of the merger in June.

The Walt Disney Co., Hearst Corp. and NBC have been partners in A&E since the network was created through the combination of ARTS and Entertainment Channels in 1984. Disney and Hearst own about 37.5%; NBC Universal controls about 25%. Lifetime is jointly owned by Disney and Hearst.

Under the agreement, there are mechanisms by which NBCU may elect or be required to exit AETN over a period of up to 15 years. In that event, Disney and Hearst could become 50-50 owners of AETN.

The new agreement will result in the consolidation of three of the nation's leading cable networks under a single management structure, while preserving the brand identities of each.

Additionally, the combined company will expand its global reach with access to some 250 million homes worldwide in more than 140 countries around the globe, as AETN's portfolio will now include: A&E Network, History, Lifetime Television, Lifetime Movie Network, Bio, History International, Lifetime Real Women, History en Español, Military History and Crime & Investigation Network.

Combining the resources, libraries and multiple platforms of 10 brands, including more than 20 Web sites, the new company believes it is well-positioned to create new opportunities for expansion and cross-promotion. The combination of these businesses is also expected to yield substantial cost efficiencies.

To that end, it was unclear at presstime what the purchase would mean for Lifetime, relative to such disciplines as affiliate sales and marketing, as well as its location in Los Angeles. AETN is largely based in New York.

As early as May 2008, Disney CEO Bob Iger signaled to Multichannel News that a change of ownership of the company might be in the cards.

Iger is quoted as saying that it would make sense to put Lifetime and A&E together: “We leave some money on the table by not managing them as a whole, meaning one company.”