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Financier Baker Eyes Some Cable Net Deals

Now on board at a Boston venture-capital firm, former USA Networks Inc. president and COO Barry Baker said his investment targets include a couple of cable programming networks.

And Baker might be close to a deal with one privately held network, he said.

Baker, who became managing director and venture partner of Boston Ventures Management Inc. earlier this month, would not identify the companies he was speaking with. But content opportunities abound, he said.

In his new role at Boston Ventures, Baker will assume senior responsibility for all of the firm's investment activities. As a venture partner, he also will provide hands-on operating management of some portfolio companies as CEO and executive chairman, directly participating in their operations.

Baker also becomes a general partner in Boston Ventures Fund VI, the firm's new $1.2 billion fund.

Once USA chairman Barry Diller's top deputy, Baker left the programmer in June, after 16 months on the job. At the time, he gave no specific reason for his departure from USA, except for a desire to once again run his own company.

Baker-who first worked with Diller at Fox Broadcasting Co. in the 1980s-was CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group before he joined USA in February 1999.

At Boston Ventures, Baker has the chance to run several different companies. He said he will concentrate mainly on electronic commerce, Internet and "old-media" investments.

Depressed prices for both public and private media companies present a huge opportunity for would-be investors, he added.

"It's a great time to be sitting on a billion dollars in cash," Baker said.

While Boston Ventures won't limit its investments to content players-in the past, it has invested in both Continental Cablevision Inc. and News Corp.-Baker said that's where he will focus his current efforts.

"We're looking at a bunch of content, not limited to cable networks," Baker said. "But there's one specific cable network we're already working on."

Baker would not identify the network, but said it is privately held.

The biggest opportunities are in the content arena, Baker said, and he even opened the door to partnering with USA Network.

"If there was something to do, we would of course do it," Baker said. "But their need for capital is not as high as most companies right now, because of their low leverage."