TCI's Liberty Media Group owns up to 50% stakes in 15 regional sports networks.
Liberty and News Corp. formed an alliance in the U.S. in 1995. Under its terms, most of the Liberty sports properties, then called Prime Sports, were renamed Fox Sports, although Liberty maintained its ownership stakes. The companies are also aligned in an international sports venture.
The current sale talks come at a time of some tension between TCI and News Corp.
TCI, the nation's largest operator of cable systems, was unhappy about News Corp.'s recent alliance with Echostar in the direct broadcast satellite business. News Corp. and Echostar have said they hope to carry local TV stations, in direct competition with cable TV.
Two weeks ago, TCI Chairman-CEO John Malone and News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch met in Denver to iron out their most recent differences.
Initially, Mr. Malone was said to be so upset about the Echostar deal that he wanted to kill a pact under discussion that would see News Corp. making a major investment in International Family Entertainment.
Liberty owns 20% of IFE's Family Channel and 25% of IFE's Fit TV. However, two executives close to the situation said last week the IFE-News Corp. talks were back on track.
In an interesting twist, one of the executives said he understood that Pat and Tim Robertson, who exercise voting control over IFE, were finally considering selling that interest. If that is true, it is possible NBC may try to renew its talks with IFE and TCI about taking over the network. News Corp. and TCI declined comment. IFE did not return phone calls.
In a separate major cable network negotiation, Time Warner is having discussions with ESPN about switching Time Warner's TBS from a superstation to a basic cable network.
BRAVES STAY ON TBS
Time Warner Vice Chairman Ted Turner has said he wants to continue showing a number of Atlanta Braves baseball games if TBS makes the switch.
Since only News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting and ESPN are licensed to show Major League Baseball games nationally on broadcast TV or basic cable, both companies have to agree to let TBS carry the Braves games if TBS goes to basic cable.