Discovery Opens New Chapter

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Is the once-hot Discovery Communications ready for the glare of the spotlight that comes with being a public company? It’s a question many will ask now that the cable programming powerhouse is the dominant component of a newly spun-off public company.

Discovery’s former controlling shareholder, Liberty Media, last Thursday completed its spinoff of Discovery into a new public company called Discovery Holding Co. Trading under the new ticker symbols DISCA and DISCB, Discovery Holding consists of Liberty’s 50 percent stake in Discovery Communications plus 100 percent of Ascent Media, a media service company that was wholly owned by Liberty.

However, there are some indications that Wall Street might not be quite ready to embrace the new DHC so quickly. In particular, there are some analysts who are remaining cautious because of factors that could lead to headaches.

Among the challenges: Discovery’s flagship channels Discovery Channel and TLC have begun showing ratings declines, which have translated into a weaker-than-expected upfront market for the channels, noted Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners.

Another issue is the continued convoluted structure of Discovery Communications. Though Liberty no longer holds a stake in the cable programmer, Discovery’s two other partners, Advance/Newhouse Communications and Cox Communications, each still retain a 24.5 percent stake in Discovery and show no signs of wanting to give up those stakes.

DHC might also have to contend with a challenge that doesn’t even have to do with the company. DHC’s leadership includes Liberty Chairman John Malone and Liberty CEO Robert Bennett, who serve as DHC’s chairman and president, respectively. Both men will be preoccupied with the ongoing drama surrounding Liberty’s 18 percent stake in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Mr. Murdoch’s efforts to reclaim that stake.

Liberty and News Corp. have been in negotiations during the past few months over how to solve the issue but appear no closer to a resolution.