Weather sale in the wind

Deal could fetch $5 billion for Landmark

Landmark Communications might sell off some or all of its media properties, including its most well-known asset, the Weather Channel, along with its accompanying Web site,

The Weather Channel and its related assets could fetch up to $5 billion, analysts said Thursday -- about the same price News Corp. recently paid for Dow Jones, which included the Wall Street Journal.

Landmark is a privately held media company based in Norfolk, Va., that owns CBS-TV affiliates and several newspapers, though it's the Weather Channel that has piqued the interest of potential bidders.

Some suggested Thursday that News Corp. also might make a play for the Weather Channel, along with such other potential bidders as Comcast, CBS, NBC Universal and Time Warner. The Weather Channel is headquartered near Atlanta, home to TW's Turner Broadcasting.

Others speculated Thursday that an Internet player like Google or Yahoo might be interested in the Weather Channel and is one of the most popular sites on the Internet. Nielsen//NetRatings reported that about 33 million unique users visited the site in November, giving the site a bigger online audience than CNN.

According to financial research firm Hoover's, Landmark boasted about $1.75 billion in sales in 2006, though less than $79 million was attributed to the Weather Channel. Landmark has about 12,000 employees, 700 of which work for the Weather Channel.

The concept for a 24-hour news channel dedicated to the weather is credited to John Coleman, a former meteorologist at WLS Chicago and forecaster for "Good Morning America." Coleman took his idea to then-Landmark CEO Frank Batten, and the Weather Channel went live 10 months later, in May 1982.

The Weather Channel was met with skepticism and was not immediately successful, though it has since found its niche and has helped to make Batten one of the wealthiest men in the U.S., worth about $1.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Frank Batten Jr., who took over as Landmark CEO in 1998, declined to say Thursday why the company's assets might be for sale, but insiders said he would be more forthcoming to reporters working for Landmark's own newspapers.

Landmark has retained investment banks JPMorgan and Lehman Bros. to assist in "exploring strategic alternatives, including the possible sale of the company's businesses," the company said Thursday.

Landmark's pronouncement comes less than a month after Tribune -- a company with similar albeit larger assets -- was purchased for $8.2 billion and taken private.

Batten Jr. said Thursday that the company will continue to invest in its operations while it considers bids and other alternatives.

"At this early stage, we cannot speculate on where this process will lead," he said. "We will consider various options and, at the end, we will advise employees and customers of our conclusions."