Digital Nets Take Flight


With Discovery Networks U.S. delaying the launch of its
Discovery Wings Channel and Discovery Health Channel, a bumper crop of digital networks
will now debut in July.

Wings, an aviation channel, and Health had been slated to
premiere June 30, but Discovery put off their launches until July 28, for several reasons.
First, Discovery closed a deal for the two networks to be carried on the revamped
programming lineup that Tele-Communications Inc.'s Headend in the Sky is about to unveil,
according to Bill Goodwyn, Discovery's senior vice president of affiliate sales and
marketing. And that new lineup launches July 28, he said.

Second, Discovery needs the extra time to solidify its
plans for some original programming for both of its new networks, which will be part of
the programmer's so-called Showcase Networks, Goodwyn added. Discovery's four other
digital Showcase networks are already up and running, and they are on HITS.

While Discovery has delayed the Wings and Health launches,
Lifetime Television was still slated to debut its first digital offering this week,
Lifetime Movie Network.

Discovery Health and Wings will have plenty of company when
they roll out in July. The Weather Channel's first digital network, Weatherscan by The
Weather Channel, will also launch July 28 on HITS. And on July 31, MTV Networks Inc. will
introduce "The Suite" from MTV: Music Television and VH1 -- six
digital-music-video networks representing different genres.

Then, this fall, another wave of digital networks will
launch. A&E Television Networks is slated to debut two digital spinoffs of its analog
channels -- an A&E Network Biography network and a The History Channel
international history network -- according to sources. A&E -- which hasn't formally
announced the new digital networks, but which is pitching them to cable operators --
declined to comment last week.

E! Entertainment Television is slated to launch Style, a
24-hour network dedicated to style and fashion, in September.

And AMC Networks' digital-video offering, AMC's American
Pop, will launch Oct. 1 as a 24-hour programming service. American Pop -- which is
actually premiering as a World Wide Web site July 1, as a prelude to the video service --
will focus on the people, places, fads and fashions of 20th century pop culture (see story).

Programmers are taking different strategies in terms of
how, and on what platforms, they will offer their digital networks to operators.

For example, initially, Weatherscan will only be available
to MSOs through HITS, said Bahns Stanley, TWC's senior vice president of local and digital
products. Later on, TWC may also offer Weatherscan to operators directly, or add it to the
digital-video programming platforms that other MSOs, such as Time Warner Cable, have in
the works, he added.

In contrast, Discovery from the start will offer Health and
Wings directly to operators, on its own transponder, as well as through HITS, Goodwyn
said. That transponder will carry the six digital Showcase networks, as well as BBC
America, which Discovery is marketing to cable operators. BBC America is also already
carried on HITS.

MTVN will shuttle its Suite of digital networks to
operators through its own transponder. And Lifetime has signed a deal with Group W Network
Services to uplink its new movie network, but it is also talking to HITS about carriage on
its service. At press time last week, Lifetime still hadn't announced any affiliation
deals for its digital service.

Weatherscan, to accommodate busy viewers and travelers,
will provide fast facts such as temperatures, conditions, forecasts and satellite-radar
composites, both regionally and nationally. Every five minutes, Weatherscan will provide a
wheel of information that starts with a national outlook and then cycles through seven

TWC will waive its license fee for the 24-hour Weatherscan
through 2002, said Lisa Shankle, TWC's vice president of local and digital distribution.

"We want to launch a service to support operators'
efforts to roll out digital," Shankle said.

In terms of its digital programming, AMC's American Pop
just unveiled its schedule for its October debut. Monday through Friday, from 9 p.m. to 11
p.m., American Pop will feature original content. At 9 p.m. will be Five & Dime
, a half-hour series about collectors and their collectibles. At 9:30 p.m. will
be Hollywood Backstage, a 1960s forerunner to Entertainment Tonight. And at
10 p.m. is POP Docs, which will profile unique American fads.

"From a branding standpoint, we are trying to think of
this as our theme park," AMC Networks president Kate McEnroe said. "This is not
just another brand extension, and not just cutting up AMC."

American Pop also has three programming strands planned.
"Breakfast Serials" will feature 30-minute classic movie serials such as Flash
, along with retro commercials. "Pop Matinee" is a daytime slate of
movies showcasing classic heroes and thrillers, including Charlie Chan. And during
primetime, "Drive-In Double Features" will showcase features such as Dracula
and Hercules.

To help shepherd content at its Showcase networks,
Discovery plans to name managing editors at several of them, starting with Wings. Last
week, Joy Smith was appointed managing editor of Wings. For the past year, Smith has
served on the editorial team at the Flight Safety Foundation, which produces seven
aviation-safety publications. Prior to that, Smith authenticated Glencoe/McGraw
earth-science textbooks.

"Due to the specialized nature of each channel, we
will have resident experts within each of the Showcase-channel management teams to provide
focused editorial supervision and to foster industry-related partnerships," said
Charley Humbard, general manager of Showcase Networks and Advanced Television, in a
prepared statement.