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Scripps Hungry for Tribune’s Stake in Food Network

Speaking at Citi’s Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference today in Phoenix, Scripps Networks brass suggested a bright 2009 for Food Network. CFO Joe NeCastro mentioned how 75% of the cable network’s distribution contracts are up for renegotiation this year (that doesn’t include Comcast, he said, which is inked for a few more years), and Scripps aims to push hard for steep rate hikes. “It’s going to be a very busy year,” said NeCastro. “We’re poised for a significant step up in affiliate fees.

Chairman/President/CEO Kenneth Lowe said the relatively wholesome programming on Food and HGTV serve the networks well when it comes time to hammer out new deals. “There’s no profanity, no violence,” he said. “It’s really TV you can watch with your kids, and all that really adds up when you sit down to negotiate.”

Lowe and NeCastro also said Scripps is eager to negotiate a deal with Tribune for its minority share (around a third) in Food Network. NeCastro said talks to determine the network’s value were underway prior to the nation’s economic collapse in the fall, and they have resumed. While Tribune’s bankruptcy proceedings make things more complicated, Scripps remains interested to come to terms with the Chicago-based media giant.

“We’re an interested buyer at the right price, and they’re certainly a motivated seller,” said NeCastro. “I think we can get something done. I’m optimistic, but there are a couple extra hurdles we have to jump over.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.