AEG Live dance partners: Ticketmaster, Cablevision

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A deal is imminent for a partnership of Ticketmaster and Cablevision to acquire about 49% of AEG Live, the live entertainment arm of Anschutz Entertainment Group, multiple sources confirmed Thursday.

The partnership would help Cablevision's sports, stadium and theater business expand beyond its core New York market, where the cabler owns Madison Square Garden, the NBA's New York Knicks, the NHL's New York Rangers and Radio City Music Hall.

News of the deal came after Cablevision reported better-than-expected earnings, and its stock rose 4% to $27.90. The partnership wasn't mentioned during Cablevision's earnings call with analysts, and contacts at all three companies declined to comment.

A key component of the deal is Fuse TV, a cable music channel with studios headquartered across from MSG that, since last spring, has operated under the MSG umbrella. Fuse was formerly part of Rainbow Media, a division of Cablevision that includes the cable television networks WE, IFC and AMC.

Cablevision has been rumored to be looking to sell Rainbow, but executives avoided telling analysts Thursday what their intentions are in regard to that asset.

Fuse, which sources say will undergo a multimillion-dollar rebranding effort, will play a large role in repositioning AEG Live as a new company armed with a strengthened relationship with Cablevision and Ticketmaster.

Under the direction of CEO Randy Phillips, AEG Live is the second largest promoter in the world, reporting grosses of more than $742 million in 2007, according to Billboard, and trailing only Live Nation.

Ticketmaster is owned by IAC, and IAC chairman Barry Diller is said to have been a major broker in the Ticketmaster-Cablevision-AEG Live arrangement.

If all the various components of the deal come together as planned, AEG Live should be able to compete more efficiently with Live Nation, which will leave Ticketmaster when its contract expires in 2009 and launch its own ticketing company.

Live Nation has become a more comprehensive music company under CEO Michael Rapino's direction, venturing into merchandising, digital marketing, sponsorships and artist management.

AEG Live has deep pockets and dabbles in multimedia, ticketing, artist management, merchandising and, with parent company AEG, the management and promotion of a wide range of venues.

Ticketmaster boasts roughly 23 million unique visitors to its Web site monthly. While the deal gives it access to a fully-developed concert promoter, it will fall short of replacing Live Nation's estimated 15 million Ticketmaster tickets sold annually, observers said.

Last year, AEG Live had such tours as Justin Timberlake, Kenny Chesney, Christina Aguilera and Hannah Montana in its camp. The company has also become known for arena-level residencies by superstars like Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks and Prince.

On the earnings front, Cablevision reported a $6.6 million profit in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $23.9 million in the year-ago frame. Revenue climbed 11% to $1.84 billion.

Ray Waddell of Billboard reported from Nashville; Paul Bond reported from Los Angeles.
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