Sony could be next target in America's media wars

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SONY Pictures Entertainment, the parent of Columbia Pictures and TriStar Entertainment, emerged as the next possible target of a media bidding war yesterday when the company was reported to have retained a Wall Street investment bank to sell a minority stake in the Hollywood studios.

The Japanese electronics group is reportedly seeking dollars 3bn ( pounds 2bn) for a one- quarter stake in the studios, which have suffered a succession of expensive box office disappointments, and which continue to lose money after servicing their debt.

But Wall Street analysts believe potential bidders for the stake may include QVC - which last week lost the protracted dollars 9.75bn takeover battle for Paramount Communications - and the cable TV giant Tele-Communication, which was in talks last year with Matsushita about taking a stake in its Hollywood subsidiary, MCA.

The high price paid for Paramount because of keen interest in entertainment programming assets has focused Wall Street's attention on Hollywood. Recent bid speculation has featured Disney, the last independent studio, and MGM/United Artists which was seized last year by its banker, Credit Lyonnais.

The possibility of Sony selling a stake in its studios emerged in this week's New Yorker magazine, which quoted a company executive as saying it wanted to reduce the division's dollars 12bn debt. A Sony spokesman refused to comment.

Sony acquired the studios from Coca- Cola in 1989 for dollars 3.5bn, prompting protests of foreign domination in Hollywood. Several months later, Matsushita paid dollars 7bn for MCA/Universal.

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