By Amy-Jo Crowley and Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) - ITV is exploring a deal to buy production group All3Media from its joint owners Warner Bros Discovery Inc. and Liberty Global to combine the business with its Studios unit, two sources familiar with the matter said.
A possible deal could see Warner Brothers sell its stake in one of Britain's leading independent production companies to ITV for cash to help trim its $49 billion debt pile, one of the sources said on Thursday.
Liberty Global could retain a stake in the merged entity, which would comprise ITV Studios and All3Media, the person said. Another option would see ITV buy out both parties entirely, the source added.
All3Media could be valued at more than 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion), sources said in May, when Reuters reported its owners were exploring options for the "Fleabag", "Midsomer Murders" and "The Traitors" maker.
Sources said there is no certainty a deal will materialise and that other buyers could also present offers.
Liberty Global is a long-term shareholder in ITV, with a near 9.9% holding, worth about 280 million pounds. Liberty could convert the stake to gain a bigger holding of the merged production business, one of the people said.
Spokespeople for ITV, All3Media, Warner Bros. and Liberty Global declined to comment.
JPMorgan has been advising shareholders of All3Media on the sale, one of the sources told Reuters. Discovery and Liberty Global bought All3Media in 2014 for an enterprise value of about 550 million pounds. Officials for JPMorgan declined to comment.
Speaking generally about its finances, ITV said in March it had funds on hand of more than 1 billion pounds, comprising cash and undrawn debt facilities.
In a potential deal, ITV would combine All3Media with the Studios business it has built to offset more volatile revenue from its advertising-dependent TV channels and new ITVX streaming service.
ITV Studios, which makes reality show "Love Island", grew revenue by 19% to 2.1 billion pounds and adjusted earnings by 22% to 259 million pounds in 2022. Analysts have said it could have a valuation of 3 billion pounds.
Sources said in February the broadcaster was open to selling a minority stake in ITV Studios to a strategic partner, but it wanted to retain majority control.
($1 = 0.7832 pounds)
(Reporting by Amy-Jo Crowley and Paul Sandle; Editing by Elisa Martinuzzi and Hugh Lawson)