Alarm bells are going off at ABC News.
The Disney-owned newsroom was jolted on Thursday after a report suggested that the outlet could soon be expelled from the Magic Kingdom. Bloomberg’s Christopher Palmeri and Thomas Buckley reported that Disney has “held exploratory talks” about selling ABC to Nexstar Media Group. The duo also reported that media mogul Byron Allen has also spoken with Disney about a possible deal.
In conversations with more than a half-dozen people inside and around ABC News that CNN spoke to Thursday evening, it was made clear that a feeling of dread and trepidation is washing over the outlet as they face the unknown.
“Everyone is freaking the f**k out,” one ABC News staffer bluntly told me about the state of affairs inside the network.
“It’s all anyone at work is talking about,” added another.
Indeed, mergers and acquisitions always inspire feelings of anxiousness as staffers wonder what a new corporate parent might mean for them. Will a new parent move to install its own leadership? Cut costs? Make other changes?
With Nexstar already owning NewsNation, the little-watched cable news channel that embraces bothsidesism and was happy to host a town hall with notorious anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. earlier this year, what would that mean for the future of ABC News and its editorial direction? Would Nexstar move to meld the two and supercharge its cable news operation with the more robust resources of ABC News?
Staffers who CNN spoke to, who acknowledged that a divorce with Disney seemed inevitable after Bob Iger’s infamous comments earlier this summer that the television asset “may not be core” to the company, were apprehensive about how quickly a potential sale appeared to be progressing.
The ABC News’ers suggested that they are frustrated that they remain in the dark about the future of their company. Instead of hearing directly from Disney leadership, they’re instead reading in the press about what the House of Mouse plans to potentially do with the company.
That might soon change. CNN was told Iger — likely recognizing the frustration radiating out of the news division — is expected to make a visit to his ABC News troops next week in New York City. But, for obvious reasons, he is likely limited on what he can say about the future of the outlet.
Whether a deal to offload ABC and Disney’s linear stations is ultimately in the cards remains to be seen. A deal with Nexstar, the nation’s largest owner of television stations and majority owner of The CW network, could also come with some regulatory complications, potentially forcing some stations to be divested. A potential deal would also raise questions for ESPN and Disney’s simulcast of sporting events on the broad terrestrial network.
Nexstar declined to comment on Thursday when I reached out. And Bloomberg described the talks as “preliminary.”
Iger has also talked up the importance of ABC News — as recently as July, when he tried to clean up his mess after speaking to CNBC at Sun Valley. “I’m ridiculously passionate about news,” Iger told senior company leaders. “It’s important to this company. We need to figure out how it makes the transition into streaming. And I happen to believe we will endure. It’s too good, it’s too important, and it’s really fun.”
Disney, for its part, poured cold water Thursday evening on any notion that a deal has been inked “at this time.” But the statement issued by the media giant once again affirmed that it is “open to considering a variety of strategic options for our linear businesses.” That’s a big hint of what’s to come.
As one television executive put it, “Once, they were Iger’s jewel in the crown. Their $20 million+ anchors were trotted out for board meetings and glitzy dinners in NYC. Now, they’re on the chopping block.”
But, the executive added, “Iger is unsentimental and cold-blooded. He will do what is best and necessary for Disney. He will not hesitate to cut off well-paid anchor friends, cast out beloved networks, or sell the jewels in the crown.”