AOL Time Warner Said To Be Interested in Buying Telemundo

NEW YORK — AOL Time Warner Inc. has emerged as a potential bidder for Spanish-language television company Telemundo Communications Group Inc., principally owned by Sony Corp. and Liberty Media Corp., according to people familiar with the situation.

AOL’s (AOL) interest suggests the bidding for Telemundo could get heated. As previously reported, Viacom Inc. (VIA), General Electric Co.’s (GE) NBC and Hispanic Broadcasting Co. (HSP) have already emerged as suitors.

Viacom is seen as the most aggressive of the group in its interest. All four companies have signed confidentiality agreements, enabling them to get financial data on Telemundo. Spokespeople for AOL, Sony (SNE), Viacom, NBC and Telemundo each declined to comment. Hispanic and Liberty (LMCA) didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Telemundo’s owners are hoping for a price of more than $3 billion for the company, which includes a TV-station group as well as the Telemundo network.
AOL faces potential regulatory obstacles, including restrictions on a company owning cable systems and TV stations in the same market. Still, Sony and Liberty faced various regulatory hurdles when they acquired Telemundo as part of a consortium with two investment funds in 1998, which they overcame through a complicated ownership structure.

Interest from the media companies reflects growing appreciation of the value of the Spanish-language audience in the U.S. AOL is already courting the audience through several of its properties, with a Latino channel on its America Online service, a Spanish-language version of its “People” magazine and a Spanish-language offshoot of cable network CNN available in certain U.S. markets as well as Latin America.

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