Media Column

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Whittle Communications has received a financial boost that should help it expand its "Channel One" classroom television news show and provide money for the research phase of its planned chain of private schools.

The Knoxville, Tenn.-based media firm announced this month that Phillips Electronics N.V., a consumer electronics manufacturer based in the Netherlands, would acquire a 25 percent stake in Whittle for $175 million.

The deal would shrink the stakes of all current stockholders of the limited partnership. Time Warner Inc., the U.S. media conglomerate that holds the biggest share of Whittle, will see its stake fall from 50 percent to 33 percent.

A previous deal in which the New York investment firm Forstmann Little & Company was to purchase a major stake in Whittle fell through in October.

Phillips is already a major supplier of television monitors to Whittle for Channel One, which is now available in more than 9,000 middle and secondary schools.

The financial infusion will allow Whittle to accelerate the expansion of Channel One into more schools. In addition, the current partners in Whittle are expected to contribute about $60 million to the Edison Project, the company's ambitious plan to develop a blueprint for technologically advanced private schools.

Whittle also had a victory of sorts this month on the regulatory front. Channel One has come under scrutiny by the Texas Board of Education because of the two minutes of paid advertising included in the 12-minute daily show. But a subcommittee of the board indicated at a meeting on Feb. 7 that it would probably not propose an outright ban on the program for Texas schools.

However, the subcommittee did direct board staff members to draw up rules governing commercialism in the classroom. Texas is one of the largest participants in Channel One, with more than 1,000 secondary schools signed up for the program.

WNET-TV, the New York City public-broadcasting station, has announced a children's television series focused on the creative process behind the visual and performing arts.

"Behind the Scenes," a co-production of WNET with Learning Designs, will premiere on the Public Broadcasting Service in September. The 10 half-hour programs will feature the magicians Penn and Teller as hosts.

The major funders for the program are the National Endowment for the Arts, which contributed $1.5 million, and McDonald's Family Restaurants, the independent franchise owners affiliated with the McDonald's Corporation. --M.W.

Vol. 11, Issue 22, Page 15

Published in Print: February 19, 1992, as Media Column
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