John Ford, who turned The Learning Channel into a big
success story, has been picked to head Discovery Health Media Inc., the umbrella company
for a new analog health network and other health-information services.
"Health is not a niche: It's a very broad
category," Ford said last week, after being named president of Discovery Health.
"And I wouldn't do this if I didn't think that we could do it well."
In December, Discovery Communications Inc. unveiled its
plans to pump up to $350 million into creating a health unit that will be anchored by a
"universally distributed" analog cable network, Discovery Health Channel. It
also includes interactive services, a health Web site and other health-related information
Discovery already has a health network that it launched
last year, but it is a digital service with very limited distribution, programmed mainly
with library product. DCI wants to build an analog service that is made up largely of
original programming and that will see mass distribution.
Ford, most recently TLC's general manager, said DCI
plans to keep the digital health service alive, as well as launching the analog network.
Most of the two services' programming will be distinct, with some limited overlap, he
There is no launch date for the analog health network.
Discovery is talking with MSOs and trying to line up carriage deals for the analog health
service, according to Ford, and its rollout hinges on those agreements.
He added that many MSOs have expressed
"significant" interest in taking an equity stake in the analog Discovery Health
as part of their charter affiliation deals -- an option that DCI is holding out as a
DCI is also offering cash launch incentives for the analog
Ford has been TLC's senior programming executive since
DCI bought the service in 1991 and relaunched it. Under his watch, TLC has been a
top-10-ranked cable network in reaching adults 25 to 54. Last year, TLC doubled its
profitability over 1997.
No successor to Ford has been named yet at TLC.