Billionaire investor Haim Saban is in talks to buy Muppet maker Jim Henson Co. at a steep discount to what Germany's EM.TV & Merchandising paid for it, people close to the situation said Tuesday.
The two sides are still haggling over the price, but it is broadly in the vicinity of about $100 million, the sources said. EM.TV paid $680 million for Hollywood-based Henson in February 2000.
There may be other suitors for the makers of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Big Bird, the sources said, but the EM.TV unit has been on the block for more than a year.
Representatives for Munich-based EM.TV and Saban declined to comment.
Saban, who made his fortune with children's figures the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, has bargaining help. Nancy Schultz, who served as Henson's chief financial officer for a short time and who advised Henson when she was with PricewaterhouseCoopers, works for Saban Capital Group Inc.
Henson produces movies such as "Muppets in Space," and its creature shop makes well-known puppets and creates special effects. It won an Oscar for the special effects in the 1995 film "Babe."
When the company's namesake, Jim Henson, died 12 years ago, Walt Disney Co. pulled out of a deal to buy the company, believing Henson embodied the empire he founded in 1958. Henson's son, Brian, ran the business until he and the family sold it to EM.TV.
EM.TV, which has been trying to raise money by unloading non-core assets, last year sold Henson's stake in Crown Media Holdings Inc. for about $100 million. Sesame Workshop also bought the Sesame Street Muppets characters from Henson last year.
Saban, who also is bidding for insolvent German media group KirchMedia, made about $1.5 billion last year when he and partner News Corp. sold cable network Fox Family Worldwide to Disney for $3 billion.