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Outdoor Channel Weighs Options

Temecula, Calif.— With one outdoor-related cable channel in the hands of new owners — and powerhouse ESPN thinking about launching another — the principal owner of The Outdoor Channel has hired investment bank Bear Stearns & Co. to help it weigh its options.

Global Outdoors Inc., which owns 84 percent of The Outdoor Channel, said Thursday it wants to look at bringing in strategic partners or finding "other strategic alternatives."

"Although the company is cash-flow positive, the right strategic partner(s) could significantly increase our penetration of the multichannel-subscriber universe," Global Outdoors CEO Perry Massie said in a press release.

He said Outdoor Channel's reach grew by about 5 million homes in the last 12 months, to about 11 million cable and satellite homes.

Independently owned Outdoor Channel already was a distant No. 2 to OLN before competition started to heat up this past spring.

In May, Comcast Corp., which owned a minority slice of Outdoor Life Network, agreed to buy out the other owners as part of a complex deal that also involved Fox Cable Networks Group buying control of Speedvision. Analysts at the time said the deal valued OLN at upwards of $500 million.

OLN has about 35 million subscribers — more than double Outdoor Channel's base — and stands to gain from full ownership by the third-biggest domestic cable operator, an MSO trying to vault into the top spot by offering to buy AT&T Broadband.

In April, The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN said it was looking into possibly launching an outdoor-oriented channel, building from ESPN2's weekend "ESPN Outdoors" block.