Nat Geo Hires Ford as VP of Programming


Former Discovery Networks U.S. programming executive John Ford has resurfaced as executive vice president of programming for National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel's competitor.

Ford — who left Discovery last February, after being passed over for the Discovery Networks presidency position nine months earlier — will oversee all aspects of NGC's programming strategy, including development, production, acquisition and scheduling, according to network president Laureen Ong.

"John's vast experience and strategic mind will be of tremendous value during this crucial stage of the network's evolution," Ong said in a statement.

Ford, a 13-year Discovery veteran who was previously president of new media for that programmer, described the 44 million-subscriber Nat Geo as a "robust adolescent" that is continuing to grow in terms of both distribution and the development of quality programming. In the second quarter, it averaged a 0.2 rating in primetime, according to Nielsen Media figures.

Network officials say viewing is up, but the network wasn't Nielsen Media Research-rated a year ago.

While not committing to any specific changes, Ford said he would look to develop more event programming like last April's Surviving Everest.

"What we really want to do is develop a strategy that will take it from an emerging network to a mature, fully distributed network," he said. "I think the river is flowing in the right direction at a good speed."

Prior to Ford's new-media stint at Discovery, he was president of Discovery's Content Group, overseeing all content and programming for Discovery's stable of U.S. networks and online services. Ford is credited for turning around TLC and launching Discovery Health Channel.

In March 2002, Ford was considered the leading candidate to take over for departing Discovery Networks president Johnathan Rodgers. But Discovery two months later hired broadcast network programming executive Billy Campbell for the position.

In August 2002, Ford — who denied Campbell's hiring prompted his eventual resignation — was moved from his post as president of the content group to become president of new media.

Ford said he respects the "well-managed and well-run" Discovery Networks, but doesn't see Discovery as direct competitors to NGC.

"This is a challenge of meeting the need of the audience, and what [Nat Geo] has going for it is its brand — that gives us a unique status and unique identity," he said. "We think the positioning isn't against this network or that network, but positioning to the audience."