Time Warner and a General Electric Co's NBC Universal partnership with the Blackstone Group are the lead contenders in today's round-two of the Weather Channel auction, according to media reports.

The bids are expected to be between $3 billion and $4 billion, the Wall Street Journal said, citing sources familiar with the matter. The winning bid is expected to range between $3.5 billion and $4 billion, but closer to $3.5 billion, one source said.

The bids are below the $5 billion the Weather Channel's owner, Landmark Communications Inc., had initially hoped the channel, its Web business and related assets would earn.

The deadline for bids was moved from May 8 to May 23. One source said a decision could be made as early as next week.

Dropout bidders include CBS, Liberty Media and Comcast. Time Warner said it would join the Weather Channel with CNN, which are both based in Atlanta, and said it would result in staff reductions. NBC would merge it with its NBC Weather Plus.

The Weather Channel produces continuous, 24-hour national, regional and local weather-related programs and reaches over more than 96 million U.S. households.