Sharks Appear to be Circling Time Warner Again

Pedestrians walk past the headquarters of Time Warner Inc. i
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 04: Pedestrians walk past the headquarters of Time Warner Inc. in New York, U.S. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009. Time Warner Inc., the world's largest media company, said earnings will be little changed this year as it spends about $250 million to cut jobs at its Warner Bros. film studio and AOL Internet unit. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg/Getty Images

Entertainment giant Time Warner seems to be the target of renewed interest by investors, including activist investors who reportedly want the company to be either sold or restructured so that HBO is spun out into a separate entity.

The New York Post late Thursday, citing sources “familiar with the situation,” reported that activist hedge fund Corvex Management was looking at pushing Time Warner to make a move of some kind.

Whether it’s rumors of a takeover bid or asset sale or just optimism about the company, Time Warner’s stock (TWX) has been doing remarkably well over the past week or so, climbing by almost 15% while the rest of the media sector has been down or flat.

Corvex is led by Keith Meister, who was Carl Icahn’s right-hand man before founding his own firm. Icahn himself made a bid to split up Time Warner in 2006, which the company eventually did. Its cable operations were spun off as a separate company in 2009 and its magazine unit (which owns Fortune) was spun off in 2013.

Calls to Corvex’s New York office were not returned Friday.

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If the hedge fund is looking at pushing for an HBO spin-off, it wouldn’t be the only one. Given the rise of Netflix (NFLX) and the success of streaming video in general, many industry watchers believe HBO could do well as a standalone entity.

Venture investor Fred Wilson, of New York-based Union Square Ventures, mentioned this idea in his recent forecast for 2016, saying an independent could trade “at a higher market cap than the entire Time Warner business did pre spinoff.”

That kind of potential for unlocking value is like blood in the water for funds like Corvex.

A separate report on the financial-news site Benzinga, meanwhile, said Friday that 21st Century Fox was interested in making a new bid for Time Warner, again quoting anonymous sources.

A spokesman for the media and entertainment giant, however, told Fortune that this report was “categorically untrue.”

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Although the company denies a deal is in the works, a takeover bid from 21st Century Fox (FOX) is not out of the realm of possibility. The media and entertainment giant, controlled by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, tried to buy the company for about $80 billion in 2014, but eventually gave up. Time Warner currently has a market valuation of nearly $55 billion.

Fox cited a “lack of interest” from Time Warner for the failure of its takeover attempt, but the fact that 21st Century Fox’s stock lost more than 10% of its value following reports of the bid may have also made the deal less than palatable.

At the time, Murdoch said the Fox proposal “had significant strategic merit and compelling financial rationale,” but that Time Warner management and its board “refused to engage with us.” Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who spurned the bid, just had his contract at the cable giant extended until 2020, the company announced Thursday.

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