Beverly Hills, Calif. -- Discovery Networks U.S. grew a bit
more last week, as it signed a distribution deal for its BBC America network with EchoStar
Communications Corp. and added a new production office in Los Angeles.
EchoStar's Dish Network added the BBC America feed Oct. 28
as part of its "America's Top 100 CD" package via direct-broadcast satellite.
The British Broadcasting Corp. wholly owns BBC America, but it is marketed and distributed
domestically by Discovery.
With the deal, BBC America is now available to 1.7 million
homes, said Johnathan Rodgers, president of Discovery Networks U.S.
Roughly one-half of that distribution is from DBS, and the
rest from cable, with most of the cable carriage through Tele-Communications Inc.'s
Headend in the Sky digital platform.
The programmer is also trying to get its Travel Channel a
spot on a satellite service, Rodgers said, but Discovery is not hawking its digital suite
of networks to DBS providers, he added.
Travel, which hopes to announce affiliation deals shortly,
will shift its programming focus, relying less on shows about dream vacations and
profiling more domestic weekend destinations.
Discovery opened a production office on the West Coast to
acknowledge the shift in its program origination. Once heavy with European TV, its cable
networks now buy more hours from the United States, New Zealand and Australia (476 hours
in total) than from Europe (240 hours). Formerly, only affiliate-relations and ad-sales
staffers were based in Hollywood.
Rodgers said the new office will help the company with its
latest focus: building its digital networks. Networks that won't fall into the
digital-only category include Animal Planet and the soon-to-be-acquired Eye on People. The
two channels have enough analog viewers (43 million for Animal Planet, for instance) that
they will remain hybrid offerings, he said.
Discovery is still negotiating the EOP acquisition with CBS
Cable, Rodgers added, and executives fully expect its president, Geoffrey Darby, to remain
with the service. The company is struggling with a new name for the service that will both
identify it as part of the Discovery family and retain the word "people."
Rodgers pledged that the acquisition would not result in
heightened affiliate fees for operators. He also said Discovery would not "force
growth" for EOP, which, he projected, would hit 30 million homes within three years.
Left unsaid was whether this meant that EOP would not be bundled with other Discovery
The EOP of the future will still highlight CBS news talent,
but there will be changes in primetime, he said. Overall, "It will be less of a CBS
News channel," and more people-oriented, according to Rodgers.
He also said Animal Planet is probably the last channel
that the company will attempt to build "from the ground up." Channels in the
digital suite rely on archival material, but he conceded that the company is a bit thin on
programming for its digital Discovery Wings and Discovery Health channels, which debuted
Discovery is actively shopping for program partners for
those niches, but Rodgers declined to say if it was talking to, for instance, Recovery
Network or America's Health Network as potential partners for Discovery Health.