UPDATED 6:19 CT
The "Ice Road Truckers" are now in the same corporate family as the "Army Wives" and the designers of "Project Runway."
A&E Television Networks has acquired ownership of Lifetime as part of a complicated deal involving the Disney-ABC TV Group, Hearst and NBC Universal. The move had been expected since June, when word first leaked out about the transaction.
Abbe Raven, currently president and CEO of AETN, will now head the combined company. Lifetime chief Andrea Wong, A&E general manager Robert DeBitetto and History’s Nancy Dubuc will all report to Raven, making the exec one of the most powerful women in cable.
The deal is expected to close by the end of the year. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
One interesting aspect of the deal: While NBC Universal will retain a stake in the new venture– it previously had ownership in AETN– it could be forced, or simply choose to, exit the venture within 15 years. If that happened, ABC and Hearst would become 50/50 owners of the new company.
"Consolidating these networks puts a powerful portfolio of distinct brands under the strategic vision of one of the industry’s most innovative and effective leaders,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group. “The new company will be much greater than the sum of its parts, positioning these brands for a new level of success and performance.”
“We are very proud of the success of these important cable brands and the content created with our partners, Disney/ABC and NBCU,” added Scott Sassa, president, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. “The new A&E Television Networks better positions each brand to continue to focus on the world-class storytelling and quality original programs they are known for.”
Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC U TV Entertainment, said the deal "represents the next stage of this partnership and the evolution of some terrific media brands.”
For Lifetime chief Andrea Wong, the acquisition comes with her network on a high: "Project Runway" made a successful transition to the network last week (and is now once again partially owned by NBC U), while first-year drama "Drop Dead Diva" is consistently building its audience.
Not much has really changed for Wong: She previously had reported to a board of executives; now she reports to Raven. Given the fact that AETN is acquiring Lifetime, it makes sense that Raven would end up with the top spot.
History’s Nancy Dubuq, credited with transforming a sleepy educational channel into a home for reality hits, has long be rumored for bigger things within AETN. The acquisition could give Raven more flexibility to reward Dubuq if she so chooses.