Discovery Communications Inc. and BBC Worldwide Ltd. are
aiming to pounce on another documentary duo, announcing last week that they will move up
the launch of Animal Planet in Asia to June 26.
The two had planned to launch the Asian channel, of which
they each own 50 percent, later in the year. By bowing it this month, they will preempt
the July 1 rollout of National Geographic Channel, owned by the National Geographic
Channels Worldwide joint venture between National Geographic Television and NBC.
Animal Planet Asia "clearly will compete with Nat
Geo," Discovery Networks International president Donald Wear said. "We'd
love to have every one of those NBC subscribers."
As part of NBC's global pay TV restructuring, Nat Geo
will replace carriage slots currently occupied by general entertainment channel NBC Asia.
NBC Asia has about 7 million subscribers, though it is not clear how many pay TV
affiliates will pick up Nat Geo long term.
The unveiling of the Animal Planet Asia launch comes after
just "weeks" of planning, said Wear. That would seem to fit a timeline
coinciding with the April 20 announcement of the Nat Geo-NBC switchout. Wear said that
channel "attrition," or fallout due to Asia's economic downturn over the
last year, has opened up space to launch a channel in the region.
But it is clearly better to be the second, rather than the
third, regional documentary channel, especially amid the battered economy.
"They're absolutely trying to get into the market
before Nat Geo," reckoned one source familiar with Asia's pay TV industry.
"They and other people underestimated the resolve of Nat Geo in terms of aggressively
pushing into the market. There was a perception that it was too late."
Nat Geo is playing down talk of competition between itself
and Animal Planet -- at least from a programming angle.
"We've really dissected their schedule and there
is zero crossover," said Sandy McGovern, NGCW's president, in an interview from
She noted that Nat Geo is more likely to duel with
Discovery's wider base of documentary programming.
On carriage, it's a different story. Animal
Planet's June launch is "not a shock," said McGovern, a former Discovery
veteran. She added that Discovery and BBC Worldwide "want to block us out of the
market. They'd love to do anything to cut us off at the legs."
Discovery and BBC Worldwide expect Animal Planet Asia to
reach more than 1 million subscribers in 20 major markets by year's end. Currently,
the channel has no subscriber commitments.
Discovery and BBC Worldwide would not comment on how much
they will invest in Animal Planet Asia, which is part of a $660 million global programming
alliance they finalized in March.