Grabbing Its Piece of $1B

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With its ad-sales leader projecting a $1 billion switch in upfront ad revenue to cable from broadcast during this year’s Madison Avenue bazaar, Discovery Networks U.S. is launching a host of new series and specials aimed in part at bringing a fair share of those dollars into its tent.

At a press conference here — part of its upfront presentation —Discovery Networks U.S. president of ad sales Joe Abruzzese said he expects cable to grab an additional 10%, or $1 billion, of ad-sales revenues from the almost $10 billion worth of business the older medium wrote during last year’s upfront.

Last year, national cable networks registered between $5.4 billion and $5.7 billion.

Despite losing significant viewership share to the younger medium, broadcast still commands about 70% of all ad sales dollars. But Abruzzese said advertisers are finally beginning to question this allegiance to the over-the-air networks.

To attract more sponsors to the 13-owned and operated Discovery Networks, Abruzzese also said the programmer will offer advertisers the 30-second time slot coming immediately out of a show across all of its networks — a position the programmer had previously slotted for its own promos.

As for fresh fare on the network, Discovery Channel will launch several marquee specials in association with the British Broadcasting Corp., including The Last Days of Pompeii and Genghis Khan: Rise of the Conqueror. Also slated for the upcoming season are Dinosaur Planet and Alien Planet, which take a look at what life might look like in other galaxies; a high-definition-produced profile of India; and Ramses: Mystery In The Valley of The Kings, a modern look at the story of the Exodus.

On the series side, Discovery Networks U.S. president Billy Campbell said he’s bullish on the new show N.O.W. (No Opportunity Wasted). The series, hosted by Phil Keoghan (Amazing Race) gives participants 72 hours and $3,000 to realize their most meaningful, deeply-held wishes.

Also on tap: A countdown show, the Top 20 All-Americans, according to the network.

TLC will look to further capitalize on the ratings-rich series Trading Spaces, For Better for Worse and What Not to Wear with several specials. New shows coming to the network include reality series Plastic Surgery, which looks at the everyday happenings at a plastic surgery practice, and The Designers, which tracks the whims of interior designers who are in demand.

Armed with a new tagline, “Living Breathing Entertainment,” Animal Planet will also present several new series and specials, including Austin Stevens: Snakemaster, which examines the exploits of the South African herpetologist and photographer. Taking a page from TLC, the service will debut Animal House, in which designers remake homes of pet-obsessed people, while Who Gets The Dog? pits families against each other for the affections of a shelter dog.

Travel Channel will map out Road Trip, a glance at the classic family road vacation; and Travel Gear, which highlights the gadgets, gizmos and new technology available for a road excursion.

The network also hopes to build on the phenomenal success of its World Poker Tour with three specials, including World Poker Tour’s Bad Boys Of Poker and World Poker Tour Hollywood Home Game, said network officials.

Discovery Health will also look to build on its signature franchise, National Body Challenge with Body Challenge: Heavyweights, in which three men and three women will embark on a quest to lose 40 pounds.

New specials that help make up more than 40 hours of original programming include Plastic Surgery: Head to Toe and Plastic Surgery: Before and After; and Architecture And Design of Man and Woman.

In time for the 2004 Presidential elections, Discovery Times Channel will launch this summer The Political Dish, which the network claims puts a “new spin” on political talk; and Political Points, a weekly short series based on The New York Times’ weekly Sunday column of the same name.

The network will also continue its Campaign Essentials programming initiative, which focuses on the upcoming fall election. The one-year old network will also launch a series of documentaries dubbed Screening Room.