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Cablevision Takes Newsday; Murdoch Drops Out

Cablevision Systemshas sealed a $650 million deal to buy the Long Island daily newspaper Newsday from Tribune, but analysts doubt the cable company can achieve cost savings to justify its investment.

Cablevision said Monday the deal returns the newspaper to Long Island, New York, ownership after 40 years, and said it sees opportunities for cross-marketing and advertising with its cable operations in the same area.

But shareholders of Cablevision, run by the Dolan family, have questioned the wisdom of investing in the flagging U.S. newspaper industry, saying they preferred the company use its cash to issue a rich dividend or buy back shares.

"I don't think there's a logical extension from their current set of assets," said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce.

Cablevision shares were down 2.3 percent to $24.39 in noon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The agreement was expected after News Corpsaid Saturday it withdrew its $580 million bid for Newsday because it could not justify outbidding Cablevision from an economic perspective. New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman had also bid $580 million for the paper.

A Daily News spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Cablevision is buying 97 percent of Newsday Media Group. The deal values Newsday at $632 million, with Tribune Co also receiving $18 million at closing as prepaid rent under certain leases of property used in the business.

That would be about seven times the paper's cash flow of $90 million in 2007, a figure mentioned by several sources familiar with Tribune's operations to Reuters in recent weeks.

That is at the high end of a range of 6.5 times to 7 times cash flow, which is frequently cited by analysts and media bankers as a typical valuation for a newspaper.

"It's another case of wondering whether Cablevision is allocating capital appropriately and trying to increase shareholder value," said Joyce.

The Newsday deal comes just five days after Cablevision announced it would buy Robert Redford's Sundance Channel in a $496 million stock and cash transaction. That deal was welcomed by Wall Street as Cablevision already owns other cable movie networks.

Cablevision has more than three million cable subscribers in the New York area. It owns cable TV networks like AMC and IFC, live venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, and sports teams New York Knicks basketball team and New York Rangers hockey team.

The company is looking beyond cable TV to generate new revenues as its core business matures and faces stiffer competition from phone and satellite companies.

Joint Venture

Tribune and Cablevision said they would set up a joint venture that would be majority-owned by Cablevision, with Tribune holding only 3 percent.

Bank of America provided a firm commitment to provide $650 million of senior debt financing, they said.

The completion of this transaction is subject to regulatory approval. Analysts have said Cablevision's role as the primary distributor of television content on Long Island and the sole "publisher" of TV news there could mean that the deal would draw antitrust scrutiny.

Newsday Media includes Newsday, which reaches 1.5 million Long Island adults each week; amNewYork, a free daily in New York City; the Star Community Publishing Group of weekly shoppers; and Island Publications' portfolio of lifestyle magazines.

After the deal, Newsday could be marketed to hundreds of thousands of Long Island households served by Cablevision who do not currently subscribe to the paper, the companies said.

Cablevision could also promote its live sports and entertainment assets through Newsday's publications, particularly amNewYork, with its New York City circulation of more than 300,000.

Tribune will receive $612 million in cash, an equity stake in the partnership valued at $20 million and another $18 million in the prepaid rent.