History Invades Military Turf

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Is cable ready for another military network?

The answer will come soon enough, as A&E Networks has hatched plans to add the Military History Channel to its lineup this spring. It will soft launch on Jan. 5 with a 20-hour “open preview” of programming affiliates can take from the satellite, according to History Channel general manager Dan Davids.

Only last month, Discovery Communications Inc. said it would replate its Discovery Wings Channel as the Military Channel. That change takes place on Jan. 10.

For A&E Networks, the concept first peeked out of the foxhole last March, when History International added a two-hour Military History Channel block two nights a week.

“The next planned step was to launch a full-fledged channel in 2005, which we are doing,” Davids said.

AETN is positioning its sixth domestic network as a digital basic service, although Davids said the service could be offered on a digital tier.

He wouldn’t say if the network would be offered as a package deal with the History Channel. “We’re realistic,” he said. “In this day and age, wherever you can get distribution you’ll be happy to get it.”

History Channel will continue to air military-oriented programming. But Davids — who said A&E Network first featured military programming in the mid 1980s — said there’s been substantial interest from viewers for a dedicated military channel.

“I get letters from our core viewers who are looking for more military history programming, because [History Channel] does a lot more than just military history,” he said. “For those diehards that want to be able to tune in at any time and see military history programming, we developed the channel, and we have product offerings that this core group wants to see.”

The new network will initially feature programming that has already aired on History Channel, but Davids said it eventually hopes to feature original programming.

History will also look to develop a video-on-demand offering from the channel.

The network will compete with Discovery’s Military Channel, which will officially replace the Discovery Wings brand on Jan. 10. With current deals that put it in 35 million households, that renamed Discovery offspring will cover a wide swath of military-oriented topics, including strategy, technology, history, profiles and personal stories.

Military History Channel will also battle somewhat with the U.S. government-owned Pentagon Channel.

Davids said he’s not concerned about competing with other military-based services for channel space. “The key thing is that you have to look at the content of each of the networks — you can’t just go by name or acronym,” he said. “We think we have the breadth and the type of military history product that core viewers will be most interested in.”

Discovery Military Channel executives could not be reached for comment at press time.

Shows featured during the network’s soft launch include: Battle History of the U.S. Army, Battle History of the Navy, Battle History of the Air Force, Battle History of the U.S. Marines, Hispanics and the Medal of Honor, Battle History of the Coast Guard, America’s Black Warriors and Women Combat Pilots.

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