The owners of Fit TV and America's Health Network
confirmed plans last week to merge the health-themed cable networks in a 50-50 venture
managed by Fit TV owner Fox Television.
The venture, first reported in Multichannel News
last week, will have a combined distribution of about 18 million cable and satellite
homes. It will be based in Los Angeles, and it will retain AHN's production facility
in Orlando, Fla.
The companies said the combined network's new name,
management details and programming plans would be disclosed later. The deal is in the
"binding-letter-of-intent stage," and it should close in about two months, an
AHN spokeswoman said.
A separate 50-50 venture, also managed by News Corp.'s
Fox, will manage AHN's AHN.com Internet site and its Galaxy.com search engine.
AHN may be best known for showing a live birth on the
Internet, while Fit TV is associated with fitness guru Jake Steinfeld, who founded the
network and who owns about 8 percent of its equity. He will continue to own a stake in the
combined network, a spokesman said. Fox owns the rest of Fit TV.
An investment group headed by two former Columbia/HCA
Health Corp. executives mostly owns AHN, which is run by CEO Webster Golinkin.
By joining forces, AHN and Fit TV hope to be in a better
position to compete against Discovery Communications Inc., which has launched a digital
health network and announced plans to invest $350 million into a health-media division,
including an analog health channel slated to launch in August.
Fox is assuming control of Fit TV from Fox/Liberty
Networks, a joint venture between Fox and Liberty Media Group, the programming arm of
A Fox spokesman would not comment on the Fit TV ownership
shift, but it could be meant to avoid a conflict with DCI, which Liberty owns 49 percent
of. A Fox/Liberty source said the shift was not related to the deal, but the source would
not elaborate on the real reasons.
Fox/Liberty obtained control of Fit TV in October 1997, in
an arrangement with Fox Worldwide. Fox Worldwide is the joint venture that acquired Fit
TV, along with The Family Channel (now Fox Family Channel), in a deal with International
Family Entertainment Inc.
Fox has made several management changes at the network, but
Pyper Davis, a former Fox/Liberty executive, has been president since August. Davis
narrowed the network's focus more closely around women's fitness programs, and
the network added nine new shows in November for a January relaunch.
At the time, the network claimed 12 million subscribers.
But according to a recent AT&T securities filing, Fit TV had just 8.3 million
subscribers as of Dec. 31. AHN claims 9.5 million subscribers.
AHN, which was founded in 1993, has had some rocky moments.
In July 1997, Columbia/HCA -- a hospital chain that was being investigated by the federal
government -- pulled out of a deal to buy the network from A.H. Belo Corp.
After that, AHN laid off about 160 people and aired reruns
until former Columbia/HCA executives Robert Scott and David Vandewater stepped up and
bought a majority stake in November 1997.
AHN had been looking for a strategic partner for the past
year, a spokeswoman said.