- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Discovery Communications Inc. has spurned another suitor.
The Bethesda company that operates the Discovery Channel and several other popular cable television networks confirmed reports yesterday that it has rejected overtures from Viacom Inc., the latest big media company to express interest in buying it.
"We're not for sale," Discovery spokesman David Leavy said. He would not elaborate, but analysts predicted the privately held company is waiting for the best possible offer.
Discovery, which analysts estimate is worth between $12 billion and $38 billion, has resisted selling itself at a time of mass consolidation in the cable television industry.
Within the past few years, most of the popular networks have come under the control of a handful of companies: Viacom, AOL Time Warner Inc. and Walt Disney Co.
"This could be a bad time for Discovery to sell. They are probably waiting for the market to turn," said Gary S. Arlen, a Washington media analyst.
Other analysts say Discovery's owners may not be ready to give up a cash cow.
Discovery is one of the few media companies that are growing despite a soft economy. The company will produce $770 million in cash flow this year, up from $560 million in 2001, according to projections by analyst David C. Joyce of Miami investment banking firm Guzman & Co.
Viacom Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sumner M. Redstone told an investors conference last week that he had approached Liberty Media Corp. Chairman John C. Malone, whose company owns 49 percent of Discovery, about selling.
Mr. Malone rejected the overture, Mr. Redstone said.
"We are approached all the time about selling Discovery, but we're enjoying the company too much," Liberty spokeswoman Julie Gleichmann said yesterday.
A Viacom spokeswoman did not return a reporter's telephone calls.
Discovery held merger talks with NBC last year, but they broke down over the company's price tag, according to published reports. Later, NBC announced it was buying the small Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo for $2.6 billion.
Liberty, a Colorado company that has a stake in more than 100 cable channels, owns 49 percent of Discovery. Two other media companies, Advance Publications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc., each own about 24 percent of the company.
Discovery's chairman and chief executive, John S. Hendricks, owns the remainder, Mr. Leavy said.
Discovery has not suffered from its independence, Mr. Arlen said.
The Discovery networks include Animal Planet, the Travel Channel and the Learning Channel. The company has faced few problems getting the channels carried on the nation's largest cable systems, Mr. Arlen said.
Most of Discovery's channels are gaining subscribers and viewers.
The audience for the flagship Discovery Channel, for example, grew 2 percent last year, even though overall cable viewership dipped.
The Discovery Channel is the 10th-most-popular cable television network in the United States, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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