Discovery Will Retool Digital Networks

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Discovery Communications Inc. this spring will revamp theprogramming schedules and on-air looks for its four digital networks, with plans topremiere some shows from The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel on the so-called'digi-nets.'

Discovery was the first major programmer to launch digitalnetworks. Its four -- Discovery Living Channel, Discovery Civilization Channel, DiscoveryScience Channel and Discovery Kids -- have been up and running for about a year and a halfnow.

'We've been using them as a testbed and really aplaceholder to do research with, really waiting on the rollout [by MSOs of advancedset-tops and digital tiers],' said Charles Humbard, vice president of digitaltelevision and special projects for Discovery Networks.

'Now that distribution is very aggressively occurring,the first thing we'll be doing is retooling the programming schedule. By April, intime for the National Show [in May], we will have new schedules for all fourservices,' Humbard added.

Discovery Living, Discovery Science and DiscoveryCivilization are airing programming produced by Discovery, and that has aired on TLC andthe Discovery Channel.

'It won't be until April that you will see all ofthat refreshed: new programming; new on-air looks and logos to keep with thosegenres,' Humbard said.

Part of Humbard's task is to determine how oftenprogramming should be repeated on the digi-nets so that viewers get adequate access to it.

Discovery also produces original kids programming that runson both its kids digital network and as a block of the Discovery Channel.

Discovery is reformulating its digital schedules because itbelieves that in order to prompt consumers to pay for digital tiers, programmers mustoffer them more than just 're-purposed' content from analog networks, accordingto Humbard.

'We want to give them two things,' Humbard said.'We want to give them an opportunity to see the best of what Discovery Channel andThe Learning Channel has produced in those areas, as well as fresh, new and exclusivethings that they won't find anywhere else. We think that's important.'

To that end, Discovery will debut some Discovery and TLCprogramning on the digital networks, which could start happening in the fourth quarter,Humbard said.

'Our plan going forward is to work with our currentanalog services and define programming we think is appropriate for the digital channels,then work with them on a co-production basis, so that we'll have windows of premiereon the digital channel,' Humbard said. 'So we'll have some of our bestscience product, we'll have some of our best living daytime product premiere on ourdigital channels prior to going to analog, as well as combining that with original andexclusive product that will only air on digital.'

He couldn't define yet how long those premiere windowswill be, other than saying, 'long enough to be of value to the consumer.'

Discovery Communications is now producing 200 hours a yearof new science programming, with about half for Discovery Channel and half for TLC.

'We'll go through those and see what fits best[for the digital channels],' Humbard said. 'We right now are formulating thoseschedules for April.'

Part of the plan is to create 'information-richinterstitials' for the digi-nets.

'We really see the digital world as being driven byappointment viewing and destination viewing,' Humbard said. 'It's not goingto be the typical channel-surfing channel where I occasionally view it ... So you'llsee us use a lot more anthologies and a lot more really key signature series to keeppeople tuning in on a regular basis.'

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