US television network NBC has acquired US cable channel Bravo for $1.25bn in stock and cash, ending months of speculation.

The arts and entertainment cable network, a pioneer in programming US independent and subtitled foreign films on American television, will deliver its new owner an affluent urban audience of some 53 million viewers.

Under the terms of the deal, the network will swap its 21% stake in Bravo's controlling company Rainbow Media (a subsidiary of Cablevision), valued at approximately $535m, along with $465m in the stock of NBC's controlling company, General Electric. NBC will pay a separate $250m to MGM, which holds a stake in both Bravo and Rainbow Media.

Cablevision is expected to convert the GE stock to cash to pay down its heavy debt load as it prepares to launch a satellite broadcast in the New Year. Cablevision recently announced plans to sell its New York theatre chain, Clearview Cinemas.

No sooner was the deal announced than speculation began on sales of Cablevision's other channels, including the Independent Film Channel and American Movie Classics (AMC). MGM, which owns 20% of AMC, is an obvious prospective buyer for that strand. Viacom, owner of rival network CBS, is also in the hunt; it was circling Rainbow Media's assets two years ago.

The scale of the sale's return may also encourage other cable operators to unload similar assets given the indebtedness endemic in the industry. Citing inside sources, Reuters news service suggested AOL Time Warner is pondering the sale of its ownership stakes in both Comedy Central and Court TV. Fellow wounded giant Vivendi Universal could gain much needed capital from sales of its USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel.

As for NBC, its plans for Bravo had already taken shape before the acquisition. The network's Warner Bros-produced political drama series The West Wing is set to air on the channel in the fourth quarter of 2003. Other Bravo programming includes syndicated US series such as The Larry Sanders Show, Hill Street Blues and Twin Peaks plus imported fare such as the UK'S Cold Feet, Canada's The Awful Truth and French-language mini-series Monte Cristo starring Gerard Depardieu.