BBC Worldwide sells its stake in Animal Planet

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The Independent Online

The meerkat's second manor is coming under new ownership. So is the second home of monkeys, gorillas and various other creatures after the BBC's commercial subsidiary, BBC Worldwide, offloaded its 50 per cent stake in its joint venture with Discovery Communications to its partner for $156m (£97m).

The sale includes Animal Planet, the global television channel which has nearly 250 million subscribers in more than 170 countries across Europe, Asia and Latin America. Discovery will also take full ownership of Liv, a general entertainment channel aimed at women that reaches 24 million subscribers in 33 Latin American markets.

After the sale, BBC Worldwide will concentrate on developing its wholly-owned channels, including BBC America, BBC Entertainment, BBC Knowledge, BBC Lifestyle, BBC HD and the children's channel CBeebies. They reach 107 million subscribers in more than 100 countries.

Discovery has forged a close relationship with the BBC and also handles the distribution of BBC America and BBC World News to cable and satellite providers in the US.

The BBC had previously sold its 20 per cent stake in Animal Planet US to Discovery in 2006, but kept its half of the business in Europe, Asia and Latin America. The two broadcasters also said yesterday they were extending their programming partnership for co-productions and programme acquisitions for North America by two years to 2014.

The joint venture has previously produced the likes of Life, Planet Earth, The Blue Planet and Wonders Of The Solar System. Under the deal, Discovery helps to fund various productions and has a "first look" deal for certain categories of BBC programmes, including natural history. Discovery is also said to be in the running to buy the 50 per cent of another BBC joint venture, UKTV, which has been put up for sale by Virgin Media.

The disposal of Animal Planet and Liv follows a BBC Trust review about a year ago which said the corporation's commercial arm should sell its non-BBC branded international channels such as Animal Planet.

John Smith, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, said: "The launch and growth of BBC-branded international channels is an important, strategic priority for BBC Worldwide. The sale of the 50 per cent interest in Animal Planet and Liv will enable us to bring increased focus to these fast-growing channels and to progress a number of other strategic priorities.

Mark Hollinger, the chief executive of Discovery Networks International, said: "Acquiring BBC Worldwide's rights to the Animal Planet and Liv channel brands provides Discovery a strategic opportunity to create additional revenue and growth opportunities for our global business."

The international channels business of BBC Worldwide is still without a managing director after Darren Childs left to run UKTV in the summer. Reports have linked Jana Bennett, who is currently the head of television at the BBC's public service arm, to the vacancy.

Discovery started with just the Discovery Channel in 1985 but its operations have ballooned with the expansion of cable and satellite television. Discovery now has more than 100 channels broadcasting in 180 countries.

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