The Observer has learned that the deal for former Vice President Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt to acquire digital-cable channel Newsworld International (NWI) has hit a major obstacle and may have fallen through in the 11th hour of negotiations.
Sources familiar with the situation said that one of Mr. Gore’s crucial investors got cold feet in the last stage of the deal and that Mr. Gore’s group and the channel’s owner, Vivendi Universal Entertainment, could not agree on a price.
Mr. Gore’s group was said to be paying around $70 million for Newsworld.
Reached for comment, and asked if the deal had died, Mr. Hyatt initially said, “No,” but then added, “No comment. It’s always been no comment. We never talked about this deal, never. When we’re at liberty to talk, I very much look forward do doing so.”
A spokeswoman for Vivendi Universal said, “Things are still in flux, but it hasn’t been officially declared over.”
Sources close to Mr. Gore told The Observer that the capital raised by Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt had come from dozens of investors, with a mix of individual, venture capital and investment banking money. It is not clear
which investor pulled out of the deal.
If the deal should fall apart completely, NWI would become part of the Universal Entertainment properties currently being sold to NBC, sources said. It’s not clear if NBC would be interested in a digital cable property, especially considering that it already owns news channels MSNBC and CNBC.
It could still be possible, in theory, for NBC to sell Newsworld to Mr. Gore ‘s group once its own deal is cleared. Spokespersons for NBC could not be reached for comment.
NWI has carriage in about 20 million homes, and packages “foreign newscasts originally broadcast in countries such as Germany, Japan, Canada and the European community,” according to its Web site. Mr. Gore’s group has had plans of transforming the channel into a 24-hour news, documentary and public-affairs channel geared toward kids in their 20’s.
The deal for Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt to buy Newsworld International has been nearly a year in the making. It was initially stalled in the fall of 2003 by Vivendi Universal’s sale of its cable assets to NBC. Later, Barry Diller, former Newsworld owner and chief executive of InterActive Corp., held up the deal while he resolved his own ownership issues. A source close to Mr. Diller told the Observer that Mr. Diller had cleared the way for Mr. Gore to acquire the company about three weeks ago.