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Healthy competish

Murdoch challenges Malone with new net

NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch is throwing down a challenge to John Malone by launching the Health Network in mid-July to 17 million cable subscribers.

Malone’s Liberty Media owns 49% of Discovery Networks, which will soon start distributing Discovery Health Channel, a $250 million venture offering news, features and documentaries about health, medicine and fitness.

Net replaces two others

Murdoch’s Health Network will replace AHN (America’s Health Network) and News Corp.’s Fit TV, which merged earlier this year as part of a plan to funnel their subscribers –and their most popular series — to a successor network. The Discovery Health Channel is starting from scratch, with no pre-existing subscriber base.

Fox will manage Health Network, which will have as its showcase program a daily, live hourlong news magazine series about health and medicine.

Mark Sonnenberg, executive VP of Fox/Liberty Ventures and the point person for Health Network, says AHN brings a large studio facility in Orlando for shows featuring M.D.s discussing various ailments, plus one of the most active consumer-health Internet sites.

Fit TV, which began as an all-exercise channel, “has evolved into a service dealing with healthy lifestyles aimed at women,” Sonnenberg said. Health Network, he added, will incorporate Fit TV’s programs into its schedule.

Cross-promotion

Fox plans to promote Health Network across its other cable channels such as Fox Family, FX, Fox News Channel and its regional sports networks. Discovery plans to do the same kind of cross-promotion for its new service, using Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, Animal Planet and Travel Channel.

Because they’re advertiser-supported, both Fox and Discovery are going after analog clearances on cable systems, not digital, because analog will get their networks in front of 95% or more of the system’s subscribers. Digital typically reaches only 10% or less of the subscriber base of a cable system.

Both networks will have to pay cable operators to get analog clearances because analog is a cable system’s most precious real estate. John Hendricks, chairman and CEO of Discovery Networks, said he’s willing to pay a cable system $7 a subscriber to secure placement on analog. Sonnenberg declined to discuss Health Network’s rate card.