Disney’s CEO is sitting idle on a multi-billion-dollar offer from a wealthy media mogul for the purchase of the company’s linear television assets–something the veteran CEO described as noncore, or unessential, to the success of the company.
Earlier this month, media entrepreneur Byron Allen made a bid to buy part of The Walt Disney Company’s assets–namely, Disney’s ABC networks, FX, and National Geographic. Allen, the owner of Allen Media Group and Entertainment Studios and a leader in the media industry with a lucrative portfolio of assets and acquisitions, is among several interested parties hoping to acquire ABC, as well as other linear television assets at the House of Mouse.
In July, Disney CEO Bob Iger talked openly about the possibility of selling off those assets, as he feels they “may not be core to Disney.” The veteran CEO continued, saying that “the creativity and content they create is core to Disney, but the distribution model, the business model that forms the underpinning of that business, and that has delivered great profits over the years, is definitely broken–and we have to call it like it is.”
Disney’s Linear TV Assets–a Hot Commodity
In early September, local television behemoth Nexstar Media Group emerged as a viable interested party in the acquisition of ABC, et al. Nexstar reportedly recently held talks with Disney about ABC, as well as the company’s eight local television stations.
Allen, who made a bid of $10 billion for Disney’s unnecessary assets, says capital is not a problem when it comes to his company acquiring ABC, FX, and National Geographic, all owned by The Walt Disney Company. But he says that Disney’s “internal deliberations” are holding things up.
“Capital’s not an issue,” he said during an interview at the Code Conference with CNBC correspondent Julia Boorstin about having the backing for his attractive bid. “I have access to plenty of capital; [there are] trillions of dollars out there looking for a safe place to invest and get it back with a return.”
More than 30 years ago, Byron Allen, a producer, media mogul, and philanthropist, founded the Los Angeles-based Entertainment Studios, a division of the Allen Media Group. Allen’s enterprise has seen its share of successes over the years, expanding to open offices in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Raleigh. His company currently owns one of the largest cable network portfolios industry-wide, which includes The Weather Channel. Allen has built his lucrative empire over the years by adding to his portfolio with a series of acquisitions.
During Allen’s interview at the Code Conference, CNBC’s Julia Boorstin asked the media tycoon if he had a specific plan as it pertains to how his $10 billion bid would be financed, to which he simply replied, “Oh, absolutely,” though he didn’t disclose any details about that plan.
Allen, however, is less focused on financing and more focused on what he considers the “real commodity” sellers like Disney want, saying that, above all, such companies want the “certainty of close.” According to Allen, the “magic trick” for Disney is that certainty.
What’s the Hold-Up at Disney?
Despite CEO Bob Iger’s comments about Disney’s linear television model being noncore to the company’s growth, Allen says the boomerang CEO “is not ready” to step into a formal process of relinquishing those assets. Allen noted. CEO Bob Iger, despite his public observations last summer that linear TV “may not be core” to the company, “is not ready” yet to enter a formal process, according to Allen.
“These legacy companies are trying to reinvent themselves,” Allen said. “It’s like they’re trying to build a new airplane mid-air while they’re flying their old airplane in a publicly traded entity. This is a very challenging thing to accomplish. Bob [Iger] is excellent at what he does; he’s phenomenal, [and] he’s the best person to do it, but they’re asking him to do something that has not occurred in the last 100 years.”
Allen is more than eager to purchase ABC, FX, and National Geographic from Disney, explaining that once the process of acquiring Disney’s linear TV assets begins, he plans to “chase it down like a lion chasing a gazelle.” The media mogul says his interest in ABC and associated stations dates back almost 10 years to 2014. Allen also noted his long-standing relationship with Bob Iger–one that began when Allen was working as a stand-up comedian and Iger was still a junior executive at ABC.
The media entrepreneur says there are some clear advantages to Allen Media Group acquiring Disney’s assets. For one thing, Allen says that federal regulations limit television station ownership, capping it at an overall reach of 39% of households in the United States. He points out that Nexstar Media, for example, is already at that level, while his company currently has an overall reach of around 22%.
For now, however, Allen will have to wait for Iger to give the sale of Disney’s linear television properties the green light, as the proverbial ball is in the veteran CEO’s court.