National Geographic Channel is quietly undergoing a shift in programming philosophy, relying more on story-based programming to help draw viewers.
NGC executive vice president of programming John Ford — who was hired in July to oversee the network's programming operations — began tweaking its lineup last month with a total overhaul of the signature news magazine National Geographic Today.
Rather than showcasing three or four documentary-type news reports during the daily show's half-hour run, the program — renamed National Geographic On Assignment— is instead focusing on one story each night.
"We think the program could be better if it's deeper with stories," Ford said. "We found that we weren't able to give a lot of time to certain stories, so we thought we should go deeper into stories and make it, as much as possible, single-topic shows."
By narrowing the subject matter each night, Ford also said the shows would retain value once they've premiered.
"We think the audience flow will be better," he said. "We'll actually be able to create something that will have more value beyond the day and week that it airs."
The series had averaged a 0.1 to 0.2 rating.
"Given the investment we're making and the talent, we should have a higher audience," he said. "It will take a little while for the audience to adjust and build, but we think this new program will prove to be something that more viewers like more."
Ford is also bullish on a pair of new original series the network launched last month: Worlds Apart, in which American families are transplanted to remote cultures for first-hand experience with authentic lifestyles; and Be the Creature, which takes a unique look at animal lifestyles. Both are averaging around a 0.2 in primetime.
In January 2004, he network will premiere a third original series, Critter Cam, in which viewers get a "bird's eye" view of the world via a camera placed on the back of an animal.
Ford said the shows, along with the revamped National Geographic Channel on Assignment, are more story-oriented than the traditional, documentary-based programming long associated with National Geographic.
NGC also is the fastest-growing top-60 network, adding 10.5 million homes this past year, according to estimates provided by Discovery Communications. NGC has 46.4 million subscribers.
In October, the network finished with a 0.2 primetime rating, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. The network was not officially rated in 2002.