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Werner’s young cablers see subs, ad revs grow

Fox has option to control Speedvision, Outdoor Life management in 2001

NEW YORK — Speedvision and Outdoor Life, the sibling cable networks considered longshots when they got off the ground 4-1/2 years ago, will go into the black next year.

Roger Werner, founder and CEO of both networks, said recently that Speedvision will reach 24 million subscribers by the end of the year, with guaranteed rollouts expected to swell the total to 30 million by December 2000. Having hit 21 million, Outdoor Life is on track to get to 25 million by the end of next year, he said.

The healthy subscriber growth has lifted the asset value of the two networks combined to $750 million, grabbing the attention of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, which owns 30% of the webs and can exercise an option to take over management control of both by April 2001. At some point between 2001 and 2004, Fox can contractually buy out the other owners of both networks: Cox Communications (a 30% stake), Comcast (15%), Media One (15%) and various individual partners, including Werner (10%).

Asset match

Fox has other cable assets with which Speedvision and Outdoor Life would fit comfortably. Fox had laid out big bucks for the rights to a multiyear package of NASCAR auto-racing events, some of which would be very playable on Speedvision. And Fox has just announced that it will launch the National Geographic Channel, which has hundreds of hours of programming that would fit the format of the Outdoor Life web.

Werner declined to discuss dollar figures, but one source said license fees from cable operators are averaging about $35 million this year for each network, climbing to $45 million or so next year.

Since both networks have hit critical mass in subscribers, Madison Avenue has begun to take notice, the source said, predicting that the $10 million each network generates in ad revenues should double in 2000.

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