Malone looks at buying Murdoch's stake in National Geographic

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The Independent Online

The US cable TV magnate John Malone signalled he would be interested in snapping up the National Geographic Channel yesterday in return for selling a stake he built up in rival News Corp back to the company.

News Corp, which is run Mr Malone's friend and competitor Rupert Murdoch, owns about 67 per cent of The National Geographic Channel's US operations and 50 per cent of the international subsidiary.

Mr Malone gave Mr Murdoch a nasty surprise last year when he swiftly amassed a voting stake of about 18 per cent of News Corp, whose empire includes The Times and a majority stake in BSkyB.

Fearing threats of a hostile takeover, News Corp moved quickly to block Mr Malone, introducing a poison pill to make an attempt prohibitively expensive.

Since then, Mr Murdoch has held discussions to buy back Mr Malone's stake. He told investors last week the talks were likely to reach a conclusion by the end of the current quarter. Mr Malone, speaking at the annual meeting of his cable company Liberty Media in New York yesterday, agreed. "We're converging on a solution. We have a couple of theories we are moving forward on," he said.

Mr Malone said Liberty, which already owns the Discovery documentary channel, would be interested in News Corp's National Geographic Channel, best known for its documentaries about wildlife and ancient civilisations.

A deal to buy the National Geographic Channel would require the approval of the National Geographic Society, a non-profit group. The society's for-profit arm National Geographic Ventures holds a minority stake in the cable network. Mr Malone also said he could be interested inpart of Barry Diller's InterActive Corp.