Deal increases Liberty's Discovery stake

The Travel Channel is taking its own business trip: The ad-supported net will move from Discovery Communications to Cox Communications assuming a just-announced deal receives regulatory approval.

In exchange for Travel and $1.275 billion in cash, Cox has agreed to sell its 25% stake in Discovery.

That transaction will leave Discovery in the hands of two partners: John Malone’s Liberty Media, whose stake goes up from 50% to 66%, and Advance/Newhouse, which increases its stake from 25% to 33%.

In turn, Cox, which doesn’t own any other nationally distributed cable nets, could put the Travel Channel up for sale.

At an Intl. Radio and Television Society luncheon in New York on Thursday, Turner Entertainment prexy Mark Lazarus and A&E prexy-CEO Abbe Raven both said they’d run the numbers to see if buying the channel would make sense. Travel reaches 88 million homes.

Another panelist, NBC Universal Cable prexy Jeff Gaspin, said, “Somebody will buy it.”

Discovery CEO David Zaslav, whose portfolio of cable networks includes Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet, believes shedding the Travel Channel is a plus.

“The proposed transaction,” Zaslav said, “will simplify Discovery’s ownership structure, further streamline our operations and give the company more strategic flexibility.”

Travel Channel treats its own name loosely, commissioning shows about poker and cooking as well as psychic John Edward’s attempts to commune with the departed. Net averaged 417,000 viewers in primetime in 2006, putting it 33rd in total viewers among all ad-supported cablers.

Its ratings were up across the board last year in primetime, rising by 5% in total viewers, 8% in adults 18-49, 6% in adults 25-54 and 5% in adults 18-34. For the first quarter to date, Travel is doing even better, growing by low double digits in total viewers and in key adult demos.

Travel’s most popular shows include “Best Places to Find Cash & Treasure,” “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” “John Ratzenberger’s Made in America,” “World Poker Tour” and “Mysterious Journeys.”

The parties said the transaction should close by July.

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