BY K. C. NEEL Cablevision Systems Corp. may be shopping its 30-million-customer MuchMusic USA service as the company rationalizes its Rainbow Media assets. Rainbow executives declined to comment, but sources close to the company say that either an outright sale or partnership is being considered. A sale of the music video service is the least likely scenario, these sources say, though Rainbow could well team with a partner to help take it to the next stage in its development. Rainbow has a penchant for finding partners for its various programming entities. American Movie Classics, International Film Channel and WE: Women’s Entertainment all are 20% owned by MGM. The company’s regional sports channels are part owned (40%) by Fox Sports. As for jettisoning assets, Rainbow sold Bravo to NBC last year for $1.25 billion. And AMC has been on and off the market several times. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Cablevision eventually sold off all its programming assets and cable operations leaving [CEO] Jim Dolan to run the New York entertainment assets,” says Stifel Nicolaus analyst Ted Henderson. “I figured AMC would go before MuchMusic, but I can see the logic in selling MuchMusic as well.” If Cablevision decides to sell MuchMusic, analysts believe the most likely buyer might be Comcast Corp. Although Comcast has promised to reduce its debt and is mired in negotiations with Liberty Media over its partnership of QVC Network, the company has plenty of cash on hand and could easily pick up MuchMusic without adding to its debt load. MuchMusic could be valuable to the MSO, analysts say. Comcast could use MuchMusic’s distribution and programming as the backbone for its partnership with Radio One. The two companies announced earlier this year that they intend to create an African-American-centric cable network to compete with Viacom’s Black Entertainment TV. “If MuchMusic is available, it would make sense for Comcast to buy it,” says Niraj Gupta, a media analyst with Salomon Smith Barney. “There is a potential for growth with MuchMusic, and it could provide Comcast with some leverage with its other suppliers.” Comcast executives declined comment. Henderson and Gupta peg the network’s worth at around $5 a subscriber, or $150 million. Robert Routh, an analyst with Natexis Bleichroeder, believes MuchMusic could be fetched for far less. Of course, Rainbow could keep MuchMusic. The network has shown significant growth, and music video programming is relatively inexpensive. MuchMusic has also been broadening its scope and recently partnered with AOL Music, which produces Sessions@AOL.

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