Malone Exit Could Mean Rainbow Deal

John Malone’s resignation from Cablevision Systems’ board of directors has sparked speculation that the company is prepping a deal involving all or part of its Rainbow networks unit.

Liberty Media Chairman Malone has quit the board, saying in a Wednesday SEC filing that he wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interest in the programming operations of Liberty and Cablevision.

The big question is, what’s changed?

Outwardly, the potential conflicts are no different than when Malone accepted Cablevision Chairman Chuck Dolan’s invitation to join the board in March, when Dolan needed support to continue Cablevision’s Voom! satellite venture.

And, of course, Malone has never shown much alarm at other perceived conflicts over the years involving Liberty and former parent company and major Liberty customer, Tele-Communications Inc. He even sat on Cablevision’s board once before in the late 1990s.

One possible change that analysts and investors immediately seized upon is that Cablevision might be planning some sort of deal involving Rainbow.

CEO James Dolan has sold one big chunk of Rainbow – Bravo – and has in the past proposed using them as the foundation of joint ventures.

Malone is not seen as a buyer of networks, but has been working to spin assets off in order to shrink Liberty, possibly for a sale.

“The decision seems to suggest that Cablevision has begun, or could begin in the future, discussions to sell their Rainbow Media cable channels to Liberty Media, or to a Liberty-related company,” says Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett.