Sale signs at Sundance net

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NEW YORK -- Another cable network might be on the move.

Sundance Channel, the joint venture among CBS, NBC Universal and Sundance founder Robert Redford, is on the block, Wall Street analyst Rich Greenfield said.

Greenfield, the Pali Research analyst who tends to make more audacious pronouncements than some of his peers, issued a report Tuesday declaring a potential sale: "According to multiple Pali sources, (Sundance Channel) has been put up for sale over the past several weeks." Reps for the network said they would not comment on the report. CBS and NBC Uni also declined comment.

The report did not specify who might buy the network, though Greenfield offered suggestions of his own, including Time Warner, Viacom and Cablevision. It was unclear whether one of the current partners might be interested in buying out the other partners' stakes.

The network could be valued at $400 million based on a calculation of about $15 for each of the net's 26 million subscribers. Currently, Sundance is on a paid digital tier on a number of systems; a new buyer could seek to move it to digital basic to expand its reach.

If Redford would give up his 10% stake in the channel (NBC Uni owns 55% and CBS 35%), it could change what is now an informal relationship between the network and the Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Institute.

In its 12-year history, the channel has leveraged its Sundance relationship to a limited extent, showing coverage from the fest and acquiring, for instance, a host of Sundance documentaries. Recent acquisitions that played the fest include the environmental docu "Everything's Cool," the Brazil crime docu "Manda Bala" and the quirky bestial inquiry "Zoo."

The channel also has been known for some lower-profile original-series programming, from British imports like the aspirational reality show "Ladette to Lady" to the Brett Morgen small-town nonfiction series "Nimrod Nation." In keeping with the progressive themes of Sundance, it also has put its stock in environmental programming with its programming block the Green.

If the network were sold to a pay channel, it would make for a return of sorts for its president, Larry Aidem, previously an executive at HBO and Showtime.

A sale also would mark the third time in six months that a cable net was for sale; in October, NBC said it would buy the female-focused Oxygen network for $925 million, and Landmark Communications said in January that it was putting the Weather Channel up for sale.

Sundance Channel, which runs without traditional commercials but has relied increasingly on sponsorship, also has been on a push to seek revenue in that area. Last week, the network announced that it would be "pulling out all the stops" for its upfront presentations in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York as part of expansion plans for the network's branded entertainment division. Redford himself -- along with Aidem, marketing chief Kirk Iwanowski and vp Kim Gabelmann -- is planning to be part of the intimate agency presentations taking place in late April and early May.

Redford's participation is "our way of telling our agency partners that we are serious about our relationships with their clients, and who better to express our commitment than the man that created this dynamic brand," Iwanowski said.
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