By Jessica Toonkel
(Reuters) - Viacom Inc has informed Scripps Networks Interactive it is willing to pay all cash to acquire the U.S. TV network operator, sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
The move by Viacom, which had $12.17 billion in debt as of March 31, could potentially mean that the $14.3 billion media company would lose its investment-grade status to buy the $10.6 billion Scripps. Last year Moody's downgraded Viacom's debt to the lowest level of investment grade - a status they would likely lose as a result of the deal.
Viacom is bidding for Scripps, which owns channels such as HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel, against Discovery Communications, which is not expected to make an all-cash bid, according to the sources, all of whom wished to remain anonymous because they are not permitted to speak to the media.
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A Viacom spokeswoman declined to comment, as did a Discovery spokesman.
It is not clear what the bids were valued at or whether Viacom or Discovery has won the bidding for Scripps, but a decision was expected within the next few days, according to the sources.
It is also possible that a deal may not happen.
Making an all-cash bid would mark an aggressive move for Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish, who has pledged to turn around the struggling media company, which owns MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures.
A deal with Scripps would create a $24.9 billion cable network that brings together non-scripted programming and scripted programming, including children's shows and a movie studio.
Bakish was named to his role late last year after discussions between CBS Corp and Viacom about a possible recombination ended. Viacom has spent the past months focusing resources on six of its brands, including the soon-to-be-launched Paramount Network.
New York-based Viacom also has been selling assets, including its stake in premium channel Epix to MGM Holdings Inc, in order to reduce debt.
By acquiring Scripps, Viacom can gain cost savings and scale. Larger programmers are thought to have more leverage in negotiations with cable and satellite providers to carry their shows.
There also is increasing competition for viewers from streaming services like Netflix Inc and Amazon.
Viacom has been talking to cable and satellite companies about launching a so-called skinny bundle of non-sports networks for less than $20 per month. By acquiring Scripps programming, Viacom has more to offer its pay TV partners for such a bundle.
(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York, additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by G Crosse and Bill Trott)