DCI Nears Decision on Health Plan: McHale

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Within the next two months Discovery Communications Inc. plans to decide the fate of The Health Network, and whether or not to turn it into a fitness-oriented service, officials said last week.

DCI bought The Health Network, formerly part of the Fox Cable Networks Group, for $225 million last May. The company has continued to operate THN as a separate network from Discovery Health Channel, while deciding whether to merge the two health networks or keep THN as a separate service but change its programming orientation.

"There's been a lot going on in the company and world so we haven't felt extreme pressure to do something by a certain date," said DCI president Judith McHale following the company's upfront presentation here last week.

She said a plan could be announced within the next month or two, "There are number of different possibilities. One potentially is to just look at the different dimensions of the health business and see if there is something that is appropriate for that particular channel."

DCI is also considering converting THN, which was formed in 1999 when Fox Cable merged America's Health Network and Fit TV, back into a fitness network.

"One of the things we've looked at is fitness," McHale said. "There are a couple of different alternatives that we're looking at. It's a pretty big category, so I think you can in fact do it, but we wanted to be sure we have a really good proposition."

Discovery Health Channel has 35.9 million subscribers, with commitments that will put it in front of 66 million by the end of 2004. THN currently is in 26.3 million homes.

At the press upfront event, McHale said DCI will spend $370 million to create 3,000 hours of original programming for its cable stable this year, versus $310 million last year.

The company had originally budgeted $120 million for its flagship Discovery Channel, but then decided to allocate an extra $30 million for new series, pushing the network's total program spending to $150 million this year, according to McHale.

Discovery Channel's five new primetime series are Hi-Tech History, Monster Garage, Building Big, People Watch
and A Moment in Time.
TLC will try to build on the success of its hit show Trading Places
with the new series While You Were Out,
a cross between Trading Places
and The Newlywed Game.
TLC's other new show is Beyond Tough,
where rapper Ice-T will explore America's most dangerous occupations firsthand.
Animal Planet has six original movies in the hopper for the year, as well as its first sitcom, Baaad Dog!
And Discovery Health Channel is introducing a daily talk-magazine show, Berman & Berman: For Women Only.