New York -- Nearly 200 NBC staffers in Asia and Europe were
waiting for word last week on how the company's planned consolidation on those
continents will affect them.
NBC officials declined comment, but at press time, an
announcement was scheduled here today (April 20) to detail NBC's plan to dramatically
overhaul its NBC-branded channels in Europe and Asia, rebranding them National Geographic
That network comes out of the National Geographic Channels
Worldwide partnership, a 50-50 venture between NBC and National Geographic TV. Officials
from both companies declined to comment.
NBC Europe's staff of 92 and NBC Asia's 80 to 90
employees had not been notified of any firm changes at press time because the fine points
of the deal were still being worked out, sources close to the situation said.
While it is carried in Australia, NGC has yet to gain
distribution in the rest of the Pacific Rim, and it inherits 6.9 million NBC Asia
households, from India to Japan. In Europe, NBC will shut down its NBC Europe operation in
all regions except Germany, Austria, Switzerland and some parts of Eastern Europe. The NGC
channel that replaces it will include a small amount of NBC News and CNBC programming.
The latest NBC closures point to larger strategic changes
within its international unit. Last year, NBC abandoned a similar general-interest-channel
concept in Latin America, SuperCanal, which it had hoped to create as a replacement for
the Canal de Noticias NBC service, which shut down in the second quarter of last year.
While CNBC and MSNBC did pick up about 500,000 subscribers
in Latin America from the abandoned Telenoticias, that universe is but a fraction of the
news channel's base of 4 million before its demise.
In December, NBC merged its CNBC channels in Asia and
Europe with the respective Asia Business News and European Business News services. Dow
Jones & Co. is now a 50-50 partner in CNBC Europe and CNBC Asia. Earlier plans by NBC
to launch a German-language computer channel called GIGA-TV were scrapped.
General Electric Co., owner of NBC, wrote off $161 million
in charges last year for losses at NBC International, most of which were attributed to
Asia and Europe.
The reorganization within NBC's international unit is
indicative of a larger trend of rationalization among American networks that have shut
down some European networks that proved too costly -- among them Country Music Television
and The Weather Channel.
NBC's first big international-channel investment came
in 1993, when it paid an estimated $50 million to acquire a 75 percent stake in
money-losing SuperChannel, which it later converted to NBC Europe. Credit Lyonnais, a
creditor of SuperChannel, still indirectly owns a stake of slightly less than 25 percent
in NBC Europe.
The only major NBC international-channel operation that
will survive besides CNBC in Asia and Europe will be the NBC Europe service for
German-speaking countries, where NBC Europe will continue to be transmitted to about 25
million subscribers. NBC is seeking a partner to continue that service.
However, the bulk of NBC Europe's distribution of 74
million homes will be turned over to NGC, which only reaches 6.5 million homes in Europe,
mostly in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scandinavia. In those regions, the channel is a
50-50 venture between NGCW and British Sky Broadcasting, which also has to sign off on the
NBC Europe has been struggling for the past two years,
during which time it has lost carriage from key cable operators due to poor ratings. NGC,
on the other hand, has gotten off to a strong start in England, with an initial 0.4
rating. In Asia, the NBC-branded channel has not been measured on a regular basis -- a
state of affairs for most satellite-delivered channels panregionally. But in the PAX
survey conducted last summer, its viewership statistics were almost negligible.