New York -- Discovery Networks, hoping to keep its ratings
and distribution momentum going into the 1998-99 season, soon will be pitching a batch of
first-run primetime series and specials to advertisers in its major-market upfront sales
Bill McGowan, senior vice president of ad sales for
Discovery Networks U.S., is projecting that cable networks will generate $2.8 billion in
the coming upfront, up 25 percent from a year ago. Discovery Networks has adopted a
"megabrand" strategy, selling its inventory across the various platforms,
ranging from the analog cable networks to online.
It will be awhile before the company's wide slate of
digital cable services are added to its megabrand sales approach, probably sometime in
1999, said McGowan.
On the programming side, Mike Quattrone, senior vice
president and general manager, Discovery Channel, said the digital services will offer
recycled programming for the foreseeable future. First-run fare would make economic sense
once those networks top 15 million or 20 million homes, he estimated.
Here's what Discovery's largest networks have
planned for the new season, as unveiled by Discovery Networks executives at a press
briefing here last week:
Discovery Channel: Inspired by the solid
ratings generated by its Titanic special, it now plans a batch of similar specials under
the Expedition Adventure banner.
These will include: finding new species in unexplored
waters off Cuba; diving to the ruins of Cleopatra's palace, underwater for 2,000
years; excavating ships in "Napoleon's lost fleet," sunk off Egypt; and
excavating mummies from remote Peruvian mountains, said Quattrone.
Quattrone, who said Discovery Channel will offer 90 percent
original fare in 1998-99, dubbed Expedition Adventure its "most
ambitious" project and added that the network will increase the number of hours
devoted to the science-and-technology genre, which will include the fourth-quarter special
Amazing Earth, narrated by Patrick Stewart.
Quattrone also disclosed that Discovery will be trimming
its hours devoted to "other" miscellaneous topics, including history, now being
covered by The Learning Channel's Real History.
Other fourth-quarter specials due include: Secrets of
the Humpback Whale, Panama Canal and More FavoriteToys.
The Learning Channel: This network, expected
to climb from 65 million to 70 million homes soon, is borrowing a page from sister
Discovery, with its Wild Discovery strip at 8 p.m. TLC will strip Adrenaline
Rush Hour at 8 p.m., a strand devoted to action-packed, "high-impact"
documentaries about "people living life on the edge," said Jonathan Rodgers,
president of Discovery Networks U.S.
In addition, TLC will double the number of special events,
including miniseries, in 1998-99, he said. Titles in the fourth quarter will include The
Mysteries of Magic, Pirates and Vietnam: The Soldiers' Story; the
latter's six hours will have ABC News correspondent Jack Smith recreating battles
that were "turning points" in that war.
TLC in the first quarter will reprise "Alien Invasion
Week," run several Secret World specials and slate the six-hour miniseries
Rome: Power & Glory. The second quarter's specials will range from Speed
Demons and Blast Off! (about space) to Intimate Universe: The Human
Body; the latter four-hour project will be followed by another four hours in the third
quarter, all coproduced with the British Broadcasting Corp.
Animal Planet: This young network's
primetime schedule will be two-thirds original, said its senior vice president and general
manager Clark Bunting, who noted that its subscriber count has soared from 3 million in
1996 to nearly 40 million now (much of it due to carriage fees paid to cable operators).
In a departure, Animal Planet will increase its emphasis on
fiction programming, including "a movie of the month franchise."
The network, besides renewing such series as Emergency
Vets, The Crocodile Hunter and The PetShop, is adding Wildlife
ER, Creature Comforts, World's Most FamousAnimals and
Animal Planet National Dog Championships is "what for
us is going to be 'Shark Week' or South Park," Bunting said. That
franchise will start with the fourth-quarter Phoenix Dog Show and conclude in early 1999,
Unlike in past seasons, Discovery Networks executives
declined to divulge production budgets by network, unlike past seasons.