BW's Ron Grover asks a quite reasonable question: Why would wheeler-dealer extraordinaire John Malone be interested in owning El Segundo-based DirecTV? If Rupert Murdoch couldn't make it work, why would he have any better luck? Part of the answer might involve WildBlue Communications, a Denver-based concern that provides satellite-delivered broadband services to 100,000 mostly rural homes. Most satellite services don't offer broadband, which has become a big selling point of the major cable services. WildBlue, which Malone has an interest in, just signed on to provide data service to DirecTV and EchoStar's rural customers. But service to urban and suburban areas could be several years away. There are some other considerations in the plan that would have Malone taking Murdoch's controlling interest in El Segundo in exchange for giving up his stake in News Corp.
For Malone, who never met a tax loophole he didn't like, the deal has immediate benefits: using an arcane tax law for "cash rich assets," he could shelter the capital gains on his two-year-old News Corp. stock to the tune of $3 billion, some analysts believe. Moreover, DirecTV also generates roughly $100 million a month in cash flow, which Malone could use to take the company private and then add on more debt to go shopping, figures UBS (UBS ) analyst Aryeh Bourkhoff.
"Rupert was more interested in keeping cash on hand," he says. The deal swap could also signal that Malone, who has stayed largely out of the media spotlight since selling off his Tele-Communications cable operations to AT&T in 1999, may finally be willing to build the media company his shareholders have desperately craved.
Malone's Liberty Media has long traded at a discount to its assets, say Wall Street followers, because it was a hodgepodge of investments with no real strategy. Since coming aboard last year as Liberty's CEO, however, [Gregory] Maffei has beefed up Liberty's online presence by buying Internet retailer Providence and has taken a 54% stake in computer game company FUN Technologies.