London -- National Geographic Channel is expected to get
new carriage on precious European channel slots that are now occupied by NBC Europe if
plans under way at press time come to fruition, several sources said.
NBC last week would only confirm that it is
"evaluating" its programming lineup in Europe, but sources said those plans will
likely lead to a radical change at the NBC Europe channel. Some speculated that NBC Europe
will close, but most believe that a large block of its programming time will be taken over
by NGC. CNBC Europe programming may also be added to NBC Europe as a third element to
further strengthen the channel.
National Geographic Channels Worldwide is a 50-50 venture
between NBC and National Geographic Television. NBC Europe is one of Europe's most
widely distributed channels, reaching 74 million homes, while NGC has only recently
embarked on efforts to snare carriage across Europe. However, NGC has quickly proven its
potential, with strong early U.K. ratings, while NBC Europe has long struggled to attract
NBC officials in London and New York declined to comment
last week beyond the statement issued by NBC Europe. The company is understood to be as
close as one week away from announcing the changes to NBC Europe if it can reach an
agreement with NGT, officials of which also declined comment last week.
A move to try to replace NBC Europe programming with NGC
programming could put NBC Europe's extensive distribution at risk. However, NBC
successfully executed a similar strategy after it acquired the SuperChannel service in
Europe in 1993. SuperChannel launched in 1987, and it was losing money when NBC acquired
it, but the channel had strong distribution deals. At the time of the acquisition,
observers speculated that the change in ownership would cause NBC to lose part of
SuperChannel's extensive carriage, but NBC kept the channel's distribution
intact as it converted SuperChannel first to NBC SuperChannel and later to NBC Europe.
However, it is known that NBC Europe's cable contracts
are restrictive, and that they do not permit the channel to change programming.
Speculation has already surfaced that a switch that would add NGC programming to NBC
Europe would be difficult.
NGC currently reaches 6.5 million homes throughout Europe.
The service has recently been rolled out in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Ireland,
Norway and Sweden.
By being moved onto NBC Europe, NGC could benefit the most
in Germany, where NBC Europe reaches 20 million homes. However, the threat of losing that
distribution is even greater than it is in other parts of Europe, due to the
carriage-contract terms there.
NGC currently has a one-hour branded block on NBC Europe,
contracted through 1998. Sandy McGovern, president of NCGW, is on record as saying that
NBC wanted to boost those hours.