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Cablevision chief says possible buyers would have to raise bid

Thu, 05/19/2005 - 8:00pm
Harry Berkowitz

Copyright 2005 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright 2005 Newsday

Newsday

May 20, 2005, Friday

In the latest hint that Cablevision Systems Corp. is not putting out the "for sale" sign, chief executive James Dolan yesterday said the price the company might attract from suitors doesn't appear high enough.

In response to a question from a Staten Island shareholder, Dolan said at the annual meeting at the cable company's headquarters in Bethpage that he believes shareholders would do better with the current management remaining in place.

"Our management team has set the bar very high," Dolan said, explaining that over the next couple of years he expects the company's impressive performance to remain strong.

Dolan has indicated that any sale of the company, which he said has shot "well above" 3 million cable TV subscribers in the current quarter, would have to set new record high prices, meaning more than $5,000 per subscriber. But the recent deal for Time Warner and Comcast to acquire Adelphia Communications falls far short of that.

"I don't think anyone's going to offer a price that can beat what we can do ourselves," Dolan told the audience of nearly 200 shareholders.

Instead of being a seller, the company has appeared to be a potential buyer of late, bidding unsuccessfully for Adelphia.

Dolan's remarks are in tune with recent comments by Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons, a frequently mentioned potential suitor, who has said he has not seen indications Cablevision is for sale.

Dolan indicated that although he could present his vision for the company, it does not necessarily match that of his father, chairman Charles Dolan. The two were at odds for months over the fate of the Voom satellite TV service, which the chairman tried to rescue but James Dolan wanted to shut. It was shut April 30.

Dolan, who said last week he would be on vacation in Russia this week, did not attend the meeting.

Shareholders approved the full slate of 15 directors, including five that Charles Dolan named in March after he ousted three directors who had opposed him on Voom, and a Dolan daughter, Marianne Dolan Weber, 47. She replaces a Dolan son, Thomas, who was chief executive of Voom, but has been on an unpaid leave of absence since mid-March. As happens every year at the annual meeting, some shareholders who produce public-access shows asked when they would get more room for their shows in the Woodbury cable system, which covers a big chunk of Nassau County.

This time James Dolan indicated the company would consider creating a second access channel, on the digital iO tier, which reaches about half the subscribers and which has more room for channels.

"I think this could be a solution at least in the near term," Charles Gaulkin of Oyster Bay said after the meeting. Gaulkin is a shareholder and public access producer of "Long Island Music Hall."

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