Discovery Out of Bidding Process for U.K.'s Channel 5

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Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav

The cable networks powerhouse was one of a number of suitors for the British broadcaster whose owner Richard Desmond has been looking for a higher price.

LONDON – Discovery Communications is out of the bidding process for U.K. broadcaster Channel 5, sources said late Wednesday.

The company, led by CEO David Zaslav, was considered a frontrunner in the auction given its strong financial position and other recent acquisitions in Europe, including that of SBS in Scandinavia and a pending deal to take a majority stake in Eurosport International. However, Discovery executives have long emphasized their financial discipline, saying they are only willing to make acquisitions that make financial sense for the company.

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With the current Channel 5 owner eyeing a price tag of more than $1.1 billion, some industry observers have wondered whether any suitor will end up offering that much and whether the sale could be scrapped.

"The U.K. is a place we'd like to continue to invest" in, Zaslav recently said, but emphasized: "It is hard to tell what happens with specific media assets. [Channel 5] has been positioned for sale. Sometimes that ends with a buyer and sometimes it doesn't. We will see how that turns out."

Last month, he told an investor conference: "If we can grow faster with an acquisition and it's strategic, we will" go after it. But he also said that the company would remain disciplined about deals and continues to see strong upside from the international businesses it currently owns.

One British report on Tuesday had suggested that Discovery in a joint bid with U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox holds a 39 percent stake, would seal a deal for Channel 5 for around $585 million (350 million pounds), or half of the price tag that current owner Richard Desmond has been looking for.

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The entrepreneur's Northern and Shell had acquired the broadcaster, home of the British version of Big Brother, in 2010 for $171 million.

Discovery was part of a group of companies that submitted final offers in a third round by a Monday deadline. Viacom and Scripps Networks Interactive were also known to have been part of the sales process. Earlier in the auction, Haim Saban's Saban Capital dropped out as sources said it wasn't willing to meet the seller's price expectations.

It wasn't immediately clear how many parties remained in the bidding process as of late Wednesday.

A Channel 5 spokeswoman couldn't immediately be reached. A Discovery representative declined to comment.

On Tuesday, the Channel 5 rep had said: "We have a number of bids as expected, which we will evaluate with our advisors over the next few days."

Twitter: @georgszalai