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Fox Health falters

Discovery buys competing 24-hour med channel

NEW YORK — The Fox Cable Networks Group has given up on the 24-hour medical information channel biz, selling its Health Network to Discovery Communications for about $255 million.

Discovery, which owns the 24-hour Health Channel, will try to figure out over the next two or three months whether to keep the competing network in operation under the new ownership or fold it.

Fox decided to bail out of Health Network when its key programming partner, Netco WebMD, had to retrench after the dot-com boom collapsed last year. Fox planned to rely on WebMD to supply the many medical shows that would get subscribers to tune in and boost the net’s advertising revenues.

Wrong prescription?

Industry analysts say the cable marketplace will be hard-pressed to support two health webs. But Bill Goodwyn, senior VP of affiliate sales and marketing for Discovery Networks, said the Fox Health Channel could be turned into a network focusing on fitness and nutrition, leaving Discovery Health for medical programming.

Goodwyn said Fox’s channel is in 24.5 million households, with an additional 20 million slated to come onboard over the next five years based on long-term rollout deals with cable operators.

Discovery Health is in 28 million homes, and it will add 27 million more by 2004. As many of these homes start to overlap, with both networks available, Goodwyn said, Discovery would not want to drop the Fox channel and give up valuable real estate on cable systems.

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