Discovery to Keep Both Health Nets


Discovery Networks U.S. has apparently scotched any plan to merge The Health Network, which it acquired from News Corp. last year, with Discovery Health Channel.

Instead, new Discovery Networks president Billy Campbell last week said he's looking to transform THN into a programming service that's focused on personal-health issues, thereby differentiating it from Discovery Health, with its more traditional medical-information bent.

Discovery bought THN, formerly owned by the Fox Cable Networks Group, in May 2001 for $225 million. Since then, Discovery had been weighing whether to merge the two health networks or to keep a separate, but repositioned THN.

Plans aren't very far along, but Campbell said Discovery Health would continue to provide information on medicine and medical breakthroughs, for example, while the revamped THN would offer more lifestyle-oriented content, such as healthy cooking and fitness programming,

"This is in a very early stage, but we think there's an opportunity to do more of a personal-health channel," Campbell said. "It would have some fitness on it, some would be for younger women and younger men, and some fitness targeted for older women and older men … Also financial health, which we think fits under the umbrella of what your personal health is all about."

Campbell, who came to Discovery three months ago from Miramax Television, said he sees Discovery Health's niche as one with more-traditional and broader educational fare, such as what happens if someone needs surgery.

"When you go to our [Discovery Health] channel now, we have very high-rated shows like Super Surgery

men love that," said Campbell. "But that is not what The Health Network is going to be all about.

"Not that it won't be educational, but it will be much more … It will tell you how to physically feel better, to enjoy your life better … all those kinds of things."

The health-programming niche has been a tough one for standalone cable networks. THN, in fact, was formed in 1999 when Fox merged two struggling services, America's Health Network and Fit TV.

As of September, Discovery Health's distribution was 39.1 million homes, while The Health Network was in 28.7 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Campbell is upbeat about health programming because the genre has performed well on broadcast TV.

"Oprah [Winfrey] focuses on it, and has very high-rated shows when she does," he said. "You see every one of the talk shows, Today, whatever, they do their health segments."

Campbell is enthusiastic about having two health channels, which he thinks will permit Discovery to dominate a growing niche, owing to an aging American populous that is making more trips to their physicians' offices.

"When I took the job, one of the first things I said in conversations with [Discovery Communications Inc. president] Judith [McHale] and [DCI chairman] John [Hendricks] was that to me this was an incredible opportunity," Campbell said. "We really feel like — similarly to some other areas, like with Animal Planet — that we have really staked out an area where we are clearly going to be the industry leader."

Campbell, who is working on the programming with Discovery Health general manager Bob Reid and his team, said he is "so high" on the health concept that Discovery is also developing an hour-long medical talk show that would probably air on both Discovery Health and Discovery Channel.