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Discovery Will Buy Learning Channel Unit

February 15, 1991|JOHN LIPPMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Discovery Channel, one of the fastest-growing cable TV networks of the 1980s, said Thursday that it had agreed to buy the Learning Channel.

The Learning Channel is the latest asset to be sold in the dismantling of the Infotechnology Inc. and Financial News Network Inc. empire. Infotech and its sister company FNN own 51% of the Learning Channel and are selling assets to repay creditors.

The price was not disclosed, but one executive close to the negotiations said Discovery paid $31.5 million. Infotech and FNN said their proceeds from the sale totaled $12.75 million.

American Community Service Network, a nonprofit group that started the Learning Channel in 1980, holds 31.5%, while 17.5% is owned by the channel's management. Infotech acquired its stake in 1986 for $3 million.

A spokesman for the Discovery Channel said it would be launching a "new programming strategy that will strengthen the (Learning Channel) network," but he would not elaborate. The Learning Channel now airs educational programs. The Discovery Channel has attracted a loyal following for its nature and documentary programs.

The deal puzzled some cable industry observers who noted that Hearst Corp. and Capital Cities/ABC together had a reported $35-million bid on the table only two weeks ago. But they pulled out when Tele-Communications Inc., the cable giant that accounts for 3.7 million of the Learning Channel's 16.2 million subscribers, would not offer a long-term guarantee to carry the channel on its local systems.

TCI is one of four cable companies that own a majority stake in the Discovery Channel. The others are Cox Cable Communications, United Artists Entertainment and Newhouse Broadcasting.

Presumably TCI, which holds a month-to-month contract with the Learning Channel, will not drop the network from its systems now that it is being acquired by one of TCI's affiliates. TCI could not be reached for comment.

The Learning Channel earned $255,000 on revenue of $10.3 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1990.

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