Disney insisted it’s not selling ABC “at this time” last week amid ongoing speculation, but the company admitted it’s open to “a variety of strategic options” for the network and a sale could have major ramifications for ABC News.
Disney’s statement followed Bloomberg report from Thursday that found the media giant “held exploratory talks” with TV station operator Nexstar Media about possibly selling off ABC. Media mogul and standup comic Byron Allen also made a massive offer bid to buy ABC, Allen Media Group confirmed to FOX News Digital.
Once news of a potential sale began to make headlines, ABC News staffers quickly expressed concern to liberal media allies. CNN’s media newsletter on Thursday was labeled, “Anxiety at ABC,” and quoted staffers who said, “Everyone is freaking the f—k out” and “it’s all anyone at work is talking about.”
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In July, Disney CEO Bob Iger hinted that ABC “may not be core” to the business, but he has also said he’s “ridiculously passionate about news.” Bankers have suggested Iger would be better off selling ABC, as The Walt Disney Company would be extremely attractive as purely an intellectual property company.
Many industry insiders and watchdogs alike have insisted network TV news is becoming obsolete for years, but ABC’s newscasts still draw serviceable audiences able of turning a profit. “Good Morning America” has been averaging nearly three million viewers each morning and “World News Tonight” is typically the most-watched newscast on broadcast TV.
Anchors Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Michael Strahan and David Muir are paid handsomely, and a new owner without Disney’s deep pockets might not be willing to shell out eight-figure salaries to talent.
In July, Puck Hollywood reporter Matthew Belloni discussed how Disney could cut costs on his podcast “The Town.” Belloni suggested TV networks that are clearly declining, yet still turning a profit, could be viewed similarly to the way investors looked at newspapers in recent years.
“They’re basically the new newspapers, when all these private equity firms came in and bought newspapers because they recognized that, ‘Maybe you don’t have to pay the anchors of ‘Good Morning America’ a combined $75 million a year to anchor a morning TV show whose ratings are probably not going to go up a whole lot in the new environment,’” Belloni said.
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“Maybe you fire them, or let their contracts expire, and bring in cheaper anchors,” he continued. “You can make the extra money there. Those are the things that some kind of private equity owner or some kind of value owner would do to ABC.”
A longtime network news executive singled out Stephanopoulos, saying there is “no known universe in which” he’s worth his current salary.
“He was given that contract because he provided Bob Iger with access to the Obamas and the Bidens,” the longtime network news executive said.
Indeed, Stephanopoulos’ ties to powerful Democrats obviously run deep, as he cut his teeth as a key figure in Bill Clinton’s White House. In 1994, A New Republic feature headlined, “The Kids Are Alright: Well, sort of. In Praise of the Stephanopoulites,” detailed his close friendship with Ron Klain, who went on to serve as Biden’s first chief of staff.
Others within the industry feel Stephanopoulos’ political connections are critical to the network, particularly ahead of a presidential election. ABC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since Iger’s return last year, Disney has initiated layoffs impacting thousands of employees, while also cutting billions of dollars in spending.
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Meanwhile, there has been a ton of smoke around a potential sale and last week’s Bloomberg report seemed to really open eyes and raise the level of concern at ABC News.
“These talks were leaked to Bloomberg to kill the deal,” the longtime executive said.
ABC News did not respond to a request for comment regarding leaks.
Disney pushed back on claims that a decision to sell ABC has been reached in a statement posted to its website Thursday.
“While we are open to considering a variety of strategic options for our linear businesses,” the company wrote, “At this time The Walt Disney Company has made no decision with respect to the divestiture of ABC or any other property and any report to that effect is unfounded.”
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Fox Business’ Joe Toppe contributed to this report.