Discovery seeks new TV partner

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Discovery Communications is looking for a partner to replace the New York Times in their aborted Discovery Times Channel joint venture, according to a report Tuesday in the Washington Post.

New Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav is looking to unload the 50% stake NYT had in the cable channel until April 2006, when the newspaper company exercised an option to exit the venture. Since joining Discovery at the beginning of the year, Zaslav has been aggressively re-evaluating every facet of the company, announcing the first phase of a broad restructuring plan in February.

Discovery declined comment.

The Washington Post reported that Discovery is targeting conglomerates with television holdings instead of newspaper companies, with an eye toward getting a partner to contribute on-air news talent to the documentary channel.

CBS is mentioned in the report as a potential suitor, one of several companies Discovery has attempted to lure into the venture. Discovery had approached CBS months ago, according to sources, but there are no active talks. A CBS spokesperson declined comment on the matter, saying it falls into the category of "rumor and speculation."

Discovery and the Times first announced their cable collaboration in 2002, transforming a channel once known as Discovery Civilization (which launched in 1996) into a current affairs-oriented channel filled in part with programs informed by Times' newsgathering.

But in 2006, the Times exercised an option in the initial agreement timed to the channel's fourth year of operation that allowed it to sell back its $100 million investment in the joint venture. The publishing company said it wanted to redirect its investment into the newspaper's growing broadband video offerings. Three weeks later, the network's senior vp and GM, Vivian Schiller, departed to become senior vp and GM at NYTimes.com.

Zaslav's restructuring plan for Discovery has included two rounds of layoffs, including the one that saw several high-ranking executives depart in February and another in April that resulted in the layoff of 200 employees. Other recent moves include the one announced in March in which Discovery had agreed to buy out 25% owner Cox Communications, which gets the Travel Channel in the deal, and last week's announcement that Discovery is closing its 103 stand-alone and mall-based retail stores, cutting another 1,000 jobs, or 25% of the company's global work force, in the process.

Andrew Wallenstein contributed to this report.
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