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TORONTO -- A half-stake in the popular "CSI" franchise was put back in play Friday as Canadian broadcaster Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. confirmed it was holding sales talks with potential buyers.

Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis, which co-produces the "CSI" shows with CBS Prods., said in a statement that it was "engaged in discussions regarding a possible sale."

Alliance Atlantis' controlling shareholder, Southhill Strategy Inc., the investment vehicle for the broadcasters' executive chairman, Michael MacMillan, also is participating in the talks.

Alliance Atlantis, which last month hired RBC Dominion Securities Inc. to explore strategic alternatives, added that obstacles remain in the way of a possible sale and "there can be no assurance that these discussions will result in a definitive agreement."

News of a possible sale in the works follows media reports Friday that U.S. private equity firm Goldman Sachs & Co. and rival Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global Communications Corp. had teamed up to launch a formal bid for Alliance Atlantis.

Neither Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Canwest Global nor New York-based Goldman Sachs offered comment on a possible partnership.

But CanWest Global, which has been holding informal talks with Southill's Michael MacMillan for some time, is apparently eyeing Alliance Atlantis' 13 cable channels. The company isn't particularly interested in the "CSI" franchise thanks to a previous foray into TV production with its money-losing Fireworks subsidiary.

The joint bid with CanWest would see Goldman Sachs take the 50% stake in the "CSI" franchise, while Canwest would add the cable channels to its own growing stable of Canadian conventional TV stations and cable nets. CBS and other private equity firms are among other rumored buyers for the half stake in the "CSI" franchise.

Other possible bidders for Alliance Atlantis include rival broadcasters Astral Media, Rogers Communications and Corus Entertainment.

Astral Media spokesman Alain Bergeron said that Alliance Atlantis has cable channels that would help his company grow, but he would not address whether Astral had or will submit a formal bid.

Executives at Rogers and Corus also offered no comment on possible offers for Alliance Atlantis.

In addition to the cable nets and "CSI" stake, Alliance owns a controlling 51% in independent movie distributor Motion Picture Distribution LP. That holding is expected to be spun off by any possible Alliance Atlantic buyer.

Victor Loewy, former CEO at Motion Picture Distribution and now a consultant to Alliance Atlantis, is expected to team up with a private equity firm and lead a management buyout of the movie distribution unit.

News of multiple offers for Alliance Atlantis led the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the country's largest media union, to ask the federal government to guard against undue media concentration.

"It is incumbent on heritage minster Bev Oda to speak directly to the issue now, before the bidding war gets seriously engaged," union vp Peter Murdoch said in a statement. "Our cultural and information environment is being put at risk by the increasing and dangerous pyramiding of media ownership concentration."
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