- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Discovery Communications Inc. said yesterday that it will sell half its stake in the Discovery Civilization Channel to the New York Times Co. for $100 million, the first step in a plan to boost the small cable network.

In addition, Bethesda-based Discovery has signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Times' television production unit, which will provide programming for several Discovery-owned networks.

"This is a way to extend the New York Times brand into a different medium," said Catherine Mathis, spokeswoman for the New York Times Co.

Some Times reporters and editors might appear on Discovery Civilization, which airs historical-themed documentaries, Ms. Mathis said.

Discovery Communications will continue to manage the network, which will be governed by a board of directors made up of three Discovery appointees and two Times appointees.

The deal is designed to boost Discovery Civilization, one of six digital-cable networks that Discovery Communications started in 1996.

Discovery Civilization has 14 million subscribers. Its chief competition, the History Channel, has more than 72 million subscribers.

"We want to expand the program's distribution, and we think compelling programming will help drive that," said David Leavy, spokesman for Discovery Communications.

Discovery is one of the few media companies that are growing despite a soft advertising market.

The company will produce $770 million in cash flow this year, up from $560 million in 2001, according to some analysts' projections.

Discovery has increasingly partnered with other media groups in recent years.

The British Broadcasting Corp. has an ownership stake in Animal Planet, one of Discovery's most popular networks. The BBC and Discovery are also partners in the BBC America cable network.

Last year, Discovery agreed to pay $18 million to lease NBC's Saturday-morning airwaves for three years beginning this fall. Discovery will fill the four-hour programming block with children's versions of some of its most popular shows, such as "The Crocodile Hunter" and "Walking With Dinosaurs."

"Discovery has been very successful leveraging what it's got, and what it has is very valuable programming," said Gary S. Arlen, a Washington media analyst.

Discovery, which also operates a chain of retail stores, has remained independent during a time of intense media-industry consolidation.

Liberty Media Corp., a Colorado company that has a stake in more than 100 cable channels, is the majority owner of Discovery Communications and has resisted selling it.

Discovery held merger talks with NBC last year, and Liberty has rejected informal overtures from Viacom Inc.

Like Discovery, the New York Times Co. is exploring new mediums.

The Times recently became a minority owner in the Boston Red Sox, primarily to gain access to the baseball team's 80 percent stake in the New England Sports Network, a regional sports cable channel.

The Times also owns the Boston Globe and 16 smaller newspapers, half of the International Herald Tribune, eight television stations and two radio stations.

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