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Liberty/Fox Close to Outdoor/Speedvision Deal

Liberty/Fox Networks could close on its equity purchase ofthe struggling Outdoor Life Network/Speedvision services as early as this week, accordingto sources close to the situation.

The Liberty/Fox investment would match Cox CommunicationsInc.'s majority interest in the networks. Cox owns 41 percent of Outdoor Life and 39percent of Speedvision. Comcast Corp. and MediaOne hold minority shares in the networks.

Initially, it was believed that Fox would buy outMediaOne's or Comcast Corp.'s shares in the networks, but sources close to thesituation said last week that both companies would retain shares in the service.

Executives from Outdoor Life/Speedvision and Fox Sportswould not comment on the matter.

Even with Fox's investment, sources said thenetworks' leadership structure will remain intact.

Fox/Liberty's investment would certainly pump somemuch-needed money into the cash-strapped services. Speedvision, which has 10.5 millionsubscribers, and Outdoor Life, with 8.5 million, have struggled to gain subscribers fromnonaffiliated MSOs.

In September, the MSO owners retained investment bankMorgan Stanley & Co. to ascertain potential investment opportunities. At the time,network officials claimed that any new investor would provide a "strategic" liftto the company, from either the distribution, programming or promotion side.

In July, the two networks -- citing financial distress --sought short-term relief from program-access rules from the Federal CommunicationsCommission so that they could exploit exclusive contracts. The FCC, eyeing the possibleLiberty/Fox investment, has yet to rule on the waiver request.