Liberty Media wants DirecTV for distribution

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NEW YORK - Liberty Media said Wednesday that obtaining a majority stake in U.S. satellite television provider DirecTV Group Inc. would give it a powerful distribution outlet for its programming networks.

Liberty has been in discussions to swap its estimated 20% voting stake in News Corp. for the Rupert Murdoch-run company's controlling stake in DirecTV.

Liberty Chief Executive Greg Maffei said at the UBS media and communications conference in New York that the discussions were continuing, but he gave no update on the progress.

"We have a host of content assets that don't have the distribution muscle they used to have," Maffei said.

The Colorado-based company, controlled by cable pioneer John Malone, owns the QVC cable television shopping network and the Starz Entertainment Group cable networks.

Since Malone divested ownership of TeleCommunications Inc., once the largest U.S. cable TV service provider, in the 1990s, he has quietly sought to recreate a cable TV and broadband empire outside of the United States.

A deal to acquire the majority stake in one of the biggest TV providers in the United States would signal Malone's return to the media distribution industry.

Liberty Media was created out of the ashes of that deal and owns big stakes in other media and technology companies, including Time Warner Inc. and News Corp.

Malone boosted its voting stake in News Corp. in 2004, spooking long-time associate Murdoch, who enacted an emergency "poison pill" provision to make hostile takeovers prohibitively costly.

Murdoch and Malone have been in discussions over the most tax-efficient means to exchange those shares. Those talks have centered on trading News Corp.'s stake in DirecTV lately.

Media analysts have said the heyday of strong subscriber growth in the satellite TV industry is past, with critics pointing out that providers lack the ability to offer high-speed Internet connections to residential homes, unlike cable and telephone operators.

Maffei said Wednesday that if Liberty controlled DirecTV, it would seek partnerships, possibly with companies in its own portfolio of investments, to make broadband services available to DirecTV customers.

Liberty Media has a big stake in WildBlue, which offers satellite high-speed Internet services to rural markets that are not served by either cable or phone companies.
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