- No valuation has been discussed although US$4bn figure touted
- ABC sports division closed in 2006
- Network shows NBA, NHL and college football under ESPN banner
Disney has reportedly discussed the possible sale of its ABC television network to local broadcasting group Nexstar.
Bloomberg says talks with Nexstar, which has 200 owned or partnered local TV stations in the US, and also owns the smaller CW Network, are at a preliminary stage.
No valuation has been discussed, although some observers believe ABC and its eight directly owned stations could be worth US$4 billion.
Nexstar is said to be only interested in a takeover at the right price and it is probable that any deal would face regulatory obstacles given it would hand control of one of the biggest television networks in the US to the largest operator of local stations.
Disney bought ABC, along with cable sports channel ESPN, in 1996 but has been considering the sale of its television interests as part of a wider restructure that would see it accelerate its streaming ambitions.
It told Bloomberg that it had made no decision on a potential sale, while Nexstar declined to comment.
ABC was the network that pioneered the National Football League’s (NFL) Monday Night Football back in the 1970s, but it is not unreasonable to suggest sport commands a less prominent position in its schedules than it does on rival networks like CBS, Fox and NBC today.
Indeed, ABC’s dedicated sports division was closed nearly two decades ago. However, ABC plays a crucial role in Disney’s sporting strategy, promising rights holders significant reach for their flagship events to complement more comprehensive coverage on ESPN.
Matches from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs make regular appearances, while college football is typically shown on a Saturday and several Monday Night Football clashes are simulcast throughout the season – particularly in local markets.
Any sale of ABC would deprive Disney of a valuable bargaining tool, especially as it prepares for its full direct-to-consumer (DTC) future. The company is preparing to enter renewal negotiations with the NBA, a tentpole property for ESPN, and free-to-air (FTA) coverage will likely be a key point of discussion.
Should any deal be reached, it will be interesting to see what Nexstar’s approach to sport would be. The CW, which previously eschewed sports, now has the rights to LIV Golf, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) college football and the Nascar Xfinity series. Perhaps ABC would become a sporting force in its own right once again.