Cablevision to Buy Sundance Channel

Cablevision’s Rainbow Media Holdings LLC said today it has agreed to buy the Sundance Channel. The cable operator’s division will acquire the network, owned by NBC, CBS and Robert Redford, for a cash and stock deal valued at $496 million.

The operator was seen as a likely buyer for Sundance, which it could somehow leverage with its IFC independent film channel, though Cablevision says it is committed to keeping them as separate networks. Both are smaller channels– IFC in about 42 million homes and Sundance in about 30 million, according to SNL Kagan. The two have existed as competitors since both launched in the mid-1990s.

 “We are always looking for strategic opportunities for our business and Sundance Channel adds another valuable asset to Rainbow’s award-winning lineup of programming networks,” said Cablevision President/CEO James Dolan in a statement.

  “Robert Redford is a true visionary and, through everything he has accomplished with Sundance Channel, has made immeasurable contributions to the world of independent film,” said Rainbow Media President/CEO Josh Sapan in a statement.

 “Rainbow unquestionably has the programming and distribution prowess necessary to run cable networks successfully over the longterm,” said Sundance Channel President/CEO Larry Aidem in a statement. “The opportunity to be a wholly owned, core asset in the Rainbow/Cablevision portfolio ensures a very bright future for Sundance Channel.”

 With Sundance joining its roster of cable channels, which aside from IFC includes AMC and WE, Cablevision could take advantage of declining license fees for TV movies to continue building an independent film TV presence. But both networks have also invested in original programming as TV movies have declined in value. IFC has positioned itself as the home of all things independent, not only film, through series like Whitest Kids U’Know, as well as anime and news shows, while Sundance has seen successes with celeb-on-celeb interview show Iconoclasts and is trying out new formats like an upcoming talk show with Elvis Costello and a reality show about the whimsical clothing store Anthropologie.

 Sundance’s fare is about 70% acquired features and documentaries, 25% exclusive series and 5% shorts and hosted segments -- an evolution from the 90% features and documentaries it had a few years back, executives said at a recent presentation to press in New York.

 Under the deal, Cablevision will exchange its 12.7 million shares in General Electric stock with NBC, which owns about 57% of Sundance. CBS owns 37% and Redford owns 6%, and each would get cash in exchange for their stakes.

 Rumors that Sundance was up for sale surfaced in analyst reports in March. Other parties thought to be interested included in buying the network Viacom and Time Warner.

 Cablevision has also bid $650 million for Newsday.