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Discovery Pushes into Latin America to Spur Growth, Suitors

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Analysts at Bernstein Research believe Discovery (DISCK), Time Warner (TWX) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA) are well positioned to see growth in Latin America's pay-TV markets.

Discovery, Fox and Time Warner have made Latin America one of its top priorities based on the time and resources they have invested in the region. According to the report, Bernstein forecasts Latin America growth between 11% and 12% over the next five years. Barclays rates Discovery shares "outperform" with an $87 price target.

The expansion in Latin America comes as Discovery is being mentioned as a possible acquisition target for any number of media, technology and telecom companies looking to acquire a well-respected content producer. Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI), owner of HGTV, the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, is another company that may also be acquired as newer content producer such as Netflix  (NFLX) and Yahoo!  (YHOO) join Amazon to compete with Comcast (CMCSA) and more traditional entertainment companies such as Time Warner  (TWX) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA)
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With estimates that Discovery, Fox and Time are expected to see growth within the next five years and suggestions that total Latin American subscriber growth is expected to increase about 8% per year, who is going to come out on top?

Surprisingly enough, it appears that the documentary laden Discovery will benefit most. Latin America appears to be a valuable asset to Discovery as revenue generated in the region accounted for more than 14% of Discovery's total cable revenue in 2013. In last year's annual report, Discovery said it has 12 channels with 310 million cumulative subscribers in 49 different countries throughout Latin America.

It also appears that the region is more than willing to pay for what Discovery is selling.

"Discovery Networks Latin America/U.S. Hispanic achieved its highest quarterly primetime ratings ever during the first quarter as ratings among 25 to 54 year-olds in primetime increased 12% with some of the most popular channels including Discovery Channel, Discovery Kids, and Discovery Home and Health.

But what exactly makes Discovery more likely to succeed than its heavyweight competitors?

It boils down to two reasons: Discovery's strong pure-play platform and its command over a large amount of real estate in Latin America's basic tier television services.

Though it's smaller than Time Warner or Fox, Discovery has found strength in its pure-play format. Generating a majority of its revenue from paid television content, the company isn't distracted by the need to become a massive multi-faceted media entity but rather, has the ability to wholly focus on providing consumers with quality content.

Discovery's command of paid programming's basic tiers has also solidified the company's success in the region. Basic tiers are prepared by cable companies with the intention of easing new subscribers into the pay-TV world with limited programming choices. With estimated 4-6 channels on an already limited paid programming roster, Discovery has secured a lion share of the basic tier, a sector that is suspected to only grow larger with more low income families subscribing for pay-TV services.

Even though Discover has had success abroad, that hasn't helped shares this year. After rising 42% in 2013, 12% above the S&P 500, shares plummeted 16% through the first quarter of the year.

Despite describing Discovery as "one of the worst performing stocks in the media space over the course of the year," Barclays commends Discovery's ability to captivate viewers with its niche networks, a direction in which Barclays suggests television is moving.

To add more support to this unlikely competitor, Barclays praises Discovery's economics, citing its low content costs (estimated at around 19-20% of revenues), and its flagship networks such as Discovery Channel and TLC, which give the company an edge over its competitors who are estimated to spend an upwards of 40%. 

Discovery may need to be weary of its international endeavors moving forward. After acquiring majority stakes in Europe's leading sports entertainment group, Eurosport International earlier this year, Discovery may be looking to transform the company into the ESPN of Europe.

Discovery, which is scheduled to publish its second-quarter earnings on July 31, declined to comment for this story.

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