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National Geographic TV.

Society furthers goals, fundraising

The National Geographic Society can look forward to financially benefiting from the new, for-profit National Geographic Channel being unveiled in the United States this month.

The nonprofit will eventually benefit once the National Geographic Channel is profitable. "We're scheduled to be profitable in four years, but are hoping that will be sooner based on our distribution agreement," said Russell A. Howard, vice president of communications for the National Geographic Channel.

The new channel is a joint venture of National Geographic Television, the society's for-profit arm, and Fox Cable Channels Group. Fox owns 70 percent of the channel, with National Geographic owning 30 percent. Fox will provide much of the capital and media expertise for the new venture, while National Geographic will provide its programming expertise, controlling the channel's content.

Fox also will spearhead the distribution efforts, key to the success of any cable network. At launch, distribution in the United States will be through AT&T Broadband, DirecTV and Adelphia Communications and will reach more than 10 million households, Howard said.

Although National Geographic Channel executives hope to achieve profitability before four years, history doesn't bode well for them. When the Discovery Channel launched 15 years ago, cable operators were anxious to give viewers a variety of options. The popular channel achieved profitability in two to three years. Now, the climate is drastically different, with hundreds of cable outlets fighting for the same distribution channels. Even four years ago, when Discovery Networks, owner of Discovery Channel, launched the Animal Planet network, distribution was easier. The Animal Planet channel became profitable in four years, said Lynn McReynolds, senior vice president of communications for Discovery Networks, U.S.

"We anticipate with channels with a lot of distribution, profitability will take no longer than five years," McReynolds said. "With smaller, digital channels, (such as Discovery Science Channel and Discovery Home & Leisure Channel), we know that those audiences are not going to grow. For those channels, we have a different set of expectations, but also a different set of economics in programming those channels. There is original product, but much more is dedicated to the "best-of" (programs from larger channels, such as Discovery Channel and Animal Planet)."

Funding research

Profits from the new channel will fund National Geographic Society's various research projects, education expeditions and conservation efforts. These projects have ranged from Robert E. Peary's North Pole expedition to Jane Goodall's groundbreaking study of wild chimpanzees to Paul Sereno's discoveries of new dinosaur species.

The society's Committee for Research and Exploration annually contributes more than $4 million to more than a 100 projects, with an emphasis on research in environmental science.

The nonprofit and for-profit arms of National Geographic will work hand in hand, since much of the content on the new channel will be based on work conducted through the nonprofit society. The channel will use National Geographic Society's legacy and brand name to capitalize on the market and compete with heavyweights, such as the Discovery Channel.

"The lineup will be a combination of programming from the National Geographic Library, which has won 109 Emmy Awards, and some original (in partnership with National Geographic Channel International, which launched in September 1997)," Howard said. The U.S. channel plans to premiere more than 400 hours of original programming during its first year, including a daily live newscast.

"National Geographic Today" is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and will feature a weekend wrap-up edition. The newscast will originate from National Geographic Channel's new, state-of-the-art digital studio on the National Geographic Society campus in Washington, D.C. The studio will feature a multimedia news set with various side sets for interviews and special assignment features, as well as digitally enhanced segments and online content.

Following the major networks' leads, the studio will be street-level with floor-to-ceiling glass for the public to interact with the news team.

Cable competition

Although the National Geographic Channel will have its household name to help it, the competition in the industry will still be stiff, with other household names, such as Discovery Channel, also fighting for viewership.

Discovery Network's McReynolds said National Geographic Channel will compete more with the network's smaller digital networks, such as Discovery Science Channel and Discovery Civilization, rather than its big brother, the Discovery Channel.

"We really view ourselves as competitors with anybody and everybody who goes after the same audience we do," McReynolds said. "We're not planning to do anything differently as a result of (National Geographic Channel) entering the marketplace. They're just one more network added in the mix that will compete, such as Oxygen and Romance Classics, anything out there that is new."

The big push for both networks will be the opportunity to build viewership. "The biggest competition in our business right now is for shelf space," McReynolds said. "The competition is really to get access to consumers. So, I would say, that's one way we'll be competing with (National Geogrphic Channel). Our digital networks will be competing with them for shelf space."

The National Geographic Channel with its expected viewership of 10 million households won't be much competition for the Discovery Channel, which touts viewership of 80 million households. And, newer networks owned by Discovery Networks, such as Discovery Travel and Discovery Health, will be fighting for much of the same viewership.

Natalie Gardner is a Little Rock, Ark.-based freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:National Geographic Society launches National Geographic Channel
Author:Gardner, Natalie
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 15, 2001
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