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Some of America's biggest media companies may be preparing themselves for a wave of takeovers.

So far this year, US media companies have raised US$18.3 billion ($26 billion) by selling bonds, more than in all of 2008. The funds will repay maturing debt or finance growth.

The thaw in the debt market, combined with cash and pressure for growth, may fuel acquisitions, says Hale Holden, a debt analyst who follows media companies with Barclays Capital in New York.

Walt Disney has already made a US$4 billion deal to buy Marvel Entertainment, giving the world's largest media company new characters such as Spider-Man and Iron Man, to revive shrinking sales at its theme parks and in films, TV shows and consumer products.

"It'll start slowly," says Aryeh Bourkoff, co-head of global media and communications banking at UBS in New York. "There's still a level of discipline coming so recently out of a very difficult cycle that will undoubtedly limit the frenzy."

The biggest media companies have used the recession to build their cash troves. The top 20 had almost US$32 billion as of their latest regulatory filings, according to Bloomberg data.

The most attractive assets are cable networks, video-game creators, international media concerns and production companies such as film studios, says Aryeh Bourkoff.

Not all the money will be for takeovers. Many media companies, stung by shrinking sales of DVDs and the loss of customers and advertising to the internet, sold bonds to refinance maturing debt.