Discovery Communications has acquired AIMS Multimedia, one of its largest competitors in the instructional video market, for an undisclosed sum. Company executives say the deal, announced Aug. 16, will expand the content and services available to educators through the cable programmer’s rapidly growing digital library–making its newly formed Discovery Education business unit the largest distributor of streaming media content to K-12 schools in the United States.

“The acquisition of AIMS Multimedia solidifies Discovery’s position as a leader and innovator in the world of digital video-based learning,” said Judith McHale, president and chief executive officer of Discovery. “Discovery Education will continue to lead the industry with the very best educational video content and online services that engage and excite students and improve their academic performance.”

With more than 1 billion subscribers and 60 networks worldwide, the global media provider, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., is perhaps best known for its brand of explorative, offbeat television programs, such as “Trading Spaces” and “Monster Garage.” But in schools, Discovery is often recognized for another attribute: its proven ability to raise student achievement.

Discovery reaffirmed its educational roots with last year’s purchase of United Learning. The Evanston, Ill.-based company, known for its popular “unitedstreaming” video-on-demand (VOD) service, was acquired to bolster Discovery’s own vast digital library with its thousands of hours of educational video clips. The acquisition of United Learning also gave Discovery another medium through which to supply its content: streaming video.

Discovery streams the short, teacher-selected snippets to schools in exchange for a yearly fee. The videos, proven to bolster student achievement in math, science, and social studies through two independent studies (see “Video on demand boosts students’ math scores“) have become a hot commodity in schools, as teachers search for ways to meet the rigorous testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

So far, more than 26,000 schools have adopted the service, which Discovery will supply for free to one non-subscribing school in every United States school district during the coming school year as part of its “VOD Pass” initiative.

With the addition of AIMS Multimedia, Discovery will increase its presence in U.S. schools “by a significant margin,” according to Steve Sidel, executive vice president for the company’s education division.

Sidel said Discovery is excited about the merger because it will enable the company to grow by expanding the breadth of its services while continuing to provide educational videos that are correlated to state standards.

In 2000, AIMS introduced DigitalCurriculum.com, an internet-based online streaming video-on-demand library. Seen by many as unitedstreaming’s only substantial competition, the online subscription service offers access to more than 8,000 different video images for use in the classroom.

Coupled with unitedstreaming’s popular VOD service, the latest deal gives Discovery access to more than 35,000 educational-style, standards-based video segments spanning all subject areas from kindergarten through 12th grade, including social studies, science, history, geography, health, language arts, and math, the company said.

“Video is special,” added Sidel, because it enables educators to exploit those often-rare “teachable moments,” inviting students to visualize key concepts and see those concepts applied in real-world situations.

Discovery said it has no immediate plans to alter the services provided by either company, so schools needn’t worry about the fate of existing contracts heading into the new school year.

Over the next several months, Discovery will evaluate the two services and decide how best to combine their resources to meet the evolving needs of its school customers, said David Pendery, a spokesman for Discovery Education.

The landmark deal was inked despite a burgeoning legal battle that some say could derail schools’ ability to use streaming media applications in the classroom.

Acacia Research Corp. of Newport Beach, Calif., recently sent a second wave of letters to U.S. colleges, claiming that it owns the patent for the technology that enables streaming media. The letters reportedly ask users to pay up to a 2-percent royalty for every video streamed or stop using the technology immediately. (See ” Acacia to schools: Pay now or we sue“)

Though Discovery contends it has yet to receive notice from Acacia regarding its own streaming media applications, company executives say they are monitoring the situation and see no reason the skirmish should keep Discovery from providing the service to its customers.

“We tend not to comment on things going on in the legal venue,” Sidel said. “But this is not something that is slowing us down.” He said Discovery will continue to work with its customers to assure them their interests are well-protected.

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