The struggling Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision
services may get a breath of fresh financial air from Fox Sports Net, which is expected to
invest in the financially strapped networks.
While details of the deal are still sketchy, sources close
to the situation said the Fox/Liberty venture would take a financial interest in both
Stamford, Conn.-based services, although it is unclear whether Fox would come in as a
fourth partner, or if one of the existing MSO owners -- Cox Communications Inc., Comcast
Corp. and MediaOne -- would bow out. In the latter scenario, MediaOne is seen as the most
likely to sell out.
Sources close to the deal also said Fox would hold at least
an equal interest in the service, and it could even rise to become majority owner.
Currently, Cox holds the highest interest in both services; 41 percent for Outdoor Life
and 39 percent for Speedvision. If Cox retains its current shares, Comcast and MediaOne
would be left to share 20 percent of each network.
What is unlikely to happen, however, is a total Fox/Liberty
buyout of the services.
Representatives from Fox and Comcast would not comment on
the matter, while executives from Outdoor Life, Speedvision and MediaOne could not be
reached for comment.
An injection of Fox/Liberty money would significantly
improve the health of the two services. Speedvision, which has 10.5 million subscribers,
and Outdoor Life, with 8.5 million, have struggled to gain subscribers from nonaffiliated
In September, the MSO owners retained investment bank
Morgan Stanley & Co. to ascertain potential investment opportunities. At the time,
network officials claimed that any new investor would provide a 'strategic' lift
to the company, from either the distribution, programming or promotion side.
Fox, with its lineup of regional-sports networks, could
provide significant cross-promotional opportunities, as well as programming, for the
services. And Liberty affiliate Tele-Communications Inc. may be more inclined to offer
both services within its analog and digital channel lineups if it has a financial
investment in them.
Fox/Liberty could also receive a distribution boost for its
sports networks from Comcast and MediaOne in return for lifting some of the MSOs'
In July, the two networks -- citing financial distress --
sought short-term relief from program-access rules from the Federal
Communications Commission so that they could exploit exclusive contracts.
Sources said ESPN had also inquired about investing in the
two services, but it has since backed away. Representatives from ESPN would not comment on