USA Networks Acquires Expedia

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As part of several moves aimed at becoming a major player in the online travel industry, USA Networks yesterday said that it would acquire controlling interests in online travel company Expedia.


The cable network also said it bought the National Leisure Group, an online cruise and vacation packages company, as well as launch a television travel channel later in the year.


Before yesterday's acquisitions, the group of companies that were acquired collectively handled 16 percent of the $14 billion market's transactions in 2000, had virtually no debt and had a combined cash balance of $340 million as March of this year.


The acquisitions add some 3 million customers to USA's database.


USA, which also has interests in the Hotel Reservations Network, bought 75 percent of Expedia's outstanding shares, equaling 37.5 million shares. Microsoft, the majority shareholder of Expedia, also agreed to exchange its 33.7 million Expedia shares, or 70 percent of its stake in the travel company.


The Expedia purchase is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.


"If you look at what is the largest category of e-commerce, bar none and easily so, it's travel," said Jon Miller, president and CEO of USA information and services. "This is a move to organize for the convergence of information, entertainment and direct selling in the online travel industry. This is an attempt to be on a path to leadership."


Terms of USA's acquisition of National Leisure Group, which is expected to close in six weeks, were not disclosed. The Leisure Group sells vacation packages and cruises through television, direct mail and Internet, among other marketing platforms.


Meanwhile, USA also will launch the USA Travel Channel, a 24-hour television service aimed at selling travel products.


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