Nat Geo U.S. Launch Is Pushed Back

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National Geographic Channel's U.S. launch has been delayed until January, and the service is now gearing up its programming department in preparation for the rollout.

NGC officials were downplaying the latest pushing back of the launch date last week, saying that kicking off the channel at the start of next year is more in line with cable-operator needs.

"The initial date was a target, and that was very preliminary," a spokesman said. "And operators often roll out new channels the beginning of the year."

When plans for the launch of a U.S. version of NCG were discussed back in the fall of 1998, the debut date was given as the fourth quarter of 1999. Subsequently, officials said the launch date would be this winter. Now, the date is January 2001.

Last week, NGC said it was creating a programming and production division and it had promoted Andrew Wilk to oversee it as executive vice president. Wilk said he expects to ultimately have a half-dozen people working in his unit.

NGC, which is owned by National Geographic Television and Fox Entertainment Group, expects to have several-hundred hours of original programming in year one, according to Wilk.

However, he could not yet offer details about the network's programming strategy or how it will differ from Discovery Channel.

"Hopefully, it will represent everything National Geographic has represented to its readers and its viewers: the quality and integrity that National Geographic has always stood for," Wilk said. "It's still very much a work in progress. I can't quite tip my hand."

NGC has at its disposal a library of prize-winning documentaries, which have won 105 Emmy Awards and recently secured 13 Emmy nominations, Wilk said. That library represents 20 million feet of film. He added that NGC will also have programming available to it from its partner, Fox.

In addition to documentaries, the library includes ABC movie Stanley's Search for Livingstone, which National Geographic co-produced. NGC will also explore licensing theatricals that it could air-perhaps a film like Titanic, then producing an original documentary to accompany it, Wilk said.

So far, NGC, which is paying cash launch fees, has commitments for 10 million subscribers at launch and 25 million overall.

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