News

A Change of I.D.

11/30/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

Discovery Times Channel is getting a new I.D. … and a new leader.

Discovery Communications plans to rename its 50-million subscriber, documentary-based network Investigation Discovery (I.D.) beginning Jan. 27, and will develop more than 200 hours of new original series and specials emphasizing forensics and investigative-oriented content.

John Ford, president and general manager of Discovery Channel, said the network hopes to fill a void in those programming categories left by networks such as A&E Network and Court TV, which have adopted more of a reality-show and acquired off-network content strategy.

If the network succeeds in its mission, it won't be under Ford's tutelage, but rather that of Discovery Studios president Clark Bunting. Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav last week tapped Bunting to head both Investigation Discovery as well as Military Channel, while anointing the networks' former leader, Ford, president and general manager of Discovery, succeeding Jane Root, who resigned last week (see related story).

Discovery Times' makeover comes nearly 20 months after The New York Times Co., which partnered with Discovery to launch the channel in 2003, exercised a put in the agreement to sell its 50% share of the network back to Discovery.

But Ford said Discovery is “not actively seeking” investors to replace NYT and instead will keep the network in-house.

“What we have is, we think, such a valuable proposition that we want to keep it to ourselves,” Ford said.

Indeed, the network has been on a ratings roll. Through Nov. 25, the network is averaging 125,000 viewers in primetime for the year, a 131% increase compared to the same period in 2006. The network has also logged 14 months of double-digit total-day household ratings increases.

In the third quarter, Discovery Times averaged a 0.2 primetime household rating, up 100% from a 0.1 this time last year.

Ford attributes the gains to greater audience awareness of such Discovery Times shows such as FBI Files and the network's investigative specials featuring former ABC News Nightline host Ted Koppel.

“Sometimes it takes a while for people to recognize what's there and stick with it,” Ford said. “This is a situation where our audience has spoken and we have listened.”

He added the network's focus on forensics and investigative programming comes at a time when other networks well-versed in such content, like A&E Network and Court TV, have begun to move in different directions.

A&E is focusing more on reality shows like Intervention and acquired series like The Sopranos, while Court TV — which will rebrand itself TruTV beginning Jan. 1, is moving to more reality-oriented programming.

Ford would not reveal what new shows or programs are in production, nor would he say how much money Discovery will allocate to produce such programming

The network however, will not seek an increase in its monthly 7 cents-per-subscriber license fee. Instead, it will try to generate more revenue from ads on its Web site, mobile video clips and on-demand content, he said.

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