Canwest retains RBC in buyer search

Broadcaster looking to sell five over-the-air stations

TORONTO -- Canadian broadcaster Canwest Global Communications said Thursday that it has retained investment bank RBC Capital Markets to find a possible buyer for five over-the-air TV stations countrywide.

The TV stations in Montreal, Hamilton, Red Deer, Kelowna and Victoria are part of Canwest Global's E! network, which offers a mix of local and U.S. series in primetime and library programming from the Comcast Entertainment Group's U.S.-based E! Networks as part of its daytime and weekend schedules.

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Canwest Global said the possible sale of its E1 network will leave it with a parallel Global Television network, which it hopes to integrate with another 13 cable channels that it controls and manages in partnership with Goldman Sachs & Co., and with its digital media assets.

Possible buyers of the E!-branded TV stations, which have been hobbled by a growing advertising slump, include cable giant Rogers Communications, and cable and pay TV channel operators Astral Media and Corus Entertainment.

The strategic review of the E! TV stations is the latest attempt by Canwest Global to raise cash to service a ballooning $3.7 billion debt mountain.

A Canwest Global spokesman would not be drawn Thursday on speculation that the broadcaster will have to sell off a controlling stake in Australia's Network TEN if it hopes to find its financial footing.

Putting the E!-branded TV stations on the auction block is the first significant asset sale by Canadian broadcasters as they come to grips with a growing advertising slump prompted by an economic recession.