Los Angeles -- National Geographic Channel announced
carriage deals with AT&T Broadband & Internet Services and DirecTV Inc. last
Wednesday, solidifying plans to launch its domestic channel during the second half of
The launch finally sets the stage for a domestic battle
between the National Geographic Society and Discovery Communications Inc. Their
headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Md., are only a few miles apart, but the
networks have not competed in the U.S. until now.
National Geographic Channel will be included in DirecTV's
Total Choice programming package. It will have a combination of analog and digital-cable
distribution on AT&T Broadband, said Lindsay Gardner, executive vice president of
affiliate sales and distribution at Fox Channels Group.
News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group bought 50 percent of
National Geographic Channel earlier this year; NBC and National Geographic Television each
own 25 percent of the channel.
"With just [the DirecTV and AT&T deals], we'll be
in 20 million homes within five years," said Gardner, noting that AT&T has
committed to roll the channel out to two-thirds of its subscribers within five years. The
contract also includes carriage on MediaOne Group Inc. systems after that company's
planned merger with AT&T is completed, he added.
National Geographic Channel is charging cable operators and
satellite providers license fees of "mid-teens per sub," sources said. The
service is also offering to pay operators "modest" launch fees, sources said.
Discovery senior vice president of distribution and
marketing strategy Lori McFarling downplayed the National Geographic Channel launch,
comparing the channel to its Discovery Civilization digital network, which counts 2
"We don't see it as a threat at all to our established
analog networks," McFarling said. Discovery has 77 million subscribers, The Learning
Channel counts 74 million households and Animal Planet has 54 million subscribers.
National Geographic Channel is building a new broadcast
facility at the society's headquarters in Washington, where anchors will provide on-air
introductions for the documentaries that run on the channel, said Rick Allen, president of
National Geographic Ventures.
"One of the things that's going to distinguish this
channel is, it's going to have a soul," Gardner said.