Court TV Joins Turner Fold

Time Warner Inc. has completed its acquisition of the interest in Court TV it didn’t already own, paying $735 million in cash for Liberty Media Corp.’s 50% stake in the 86 million-subscriber cable network.

The transaction, announced Friday, values Court TV at just under $1.5 billion, which appears to be about 23 times Court TV’s estimated 2006 cash flow, in line with recent network sales.

Time Warner has had the right to force Liberty to sell its interest in the network since January.

As reported earlier, Court TV will be folded into the entertainment division of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System Inc. That unit is headed by division president Mark Lazarus. Court TV chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff will be the network’s nonexecutive chairman for a six-month period.

TBS Inc. chairman and CEO Phil Kent told reporters on a conference call that it was too early to tell if any layoffs will result from the deal.

Turner officials did say president and COO Art Bell and Marc Juris, general manager of programming and marketing, would remain.

“Art Bell is going to stay on and do substantially a lot of what he has been doing,” Kent said. Some current Court TV functions will be folded into Turner, he said, citing human resources and corporate communications. “But in terms of the parts of the network most directly tied to what people see on air, the look and feel of the programming, the marketing, creative services, all of that, all of the programming 24 hours, is all going to continue to be under Art and we’re thrilled that he’s staying on to work with Mark in this transition.”

Court TV’s headquarters will remain in New York, but Lazarus said some functions could become part of Turner’s structure in Atlanta.

Lazarus said there were no plans to reformat Court TV, which televises trial coverage and news during the day and presents entertainment shows at night. Executives at Turner’s Cable News Network will be involved in planning of Court’s daytime programming, he said.

As for possibly mixing in some acquired programming from other Turner networks, Lazarus said Court TV would be part of the programming decisions Turner makes “for all our businesses going forward. Nothing is earmarked, but we’re not ruling anything out.”

Kent also said Schleiff, with whom he’s been friends for two decades, will serve as a consultant to him during the transition period. Schleiff will continue to be involved in public-affairs initiatives where he has already taken a leading role, including efforts to gain access for cameras in state and federal courts.

Schleiff said in a statement he was proud to have overseen the growth in the network’s value from $300 million when he first started to $1.5 billion today.