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Discovery's deep pockets

It plans to spend $370M this year on programs for its family of networks 4/14/2002 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Travel to keep truckin'

Travel to keep truckin'

More than seven months have passed since Sept. 11, but the Travel Channel is still struggling to regain its footing. The travel industry remains in a funk, and cable news networks are stealing away viewers. Prime time ratings dropped 40% in the first quarter, from a 0.5 last year to a 0.3.

"The strength of the travel genre is still there; it's just going to take time to rebound," said John Ford, head of Discovery Networks content group, who oversees Travel Channel and its sister networks.

Discovery added the Travel Channel to its portfolio in 1997 and has guided distribution to 64 million, including 14 million new subs since last year. The channel, though, is still searching for its audience.

Avid travelers, research has shown, don't watch enough TV, while couch potatoes don't do all that much traveling. To play to both crowds and still grow, Travel is homing in on popular destinations.

Ford would rather call it "The Destination Channel." "It's not so much about how to get there," he said, because the emphasis has shifted from informational to aspirational shows.

American travel is the focus of two upcoming projects. Coming in the fourth quarter, new series Destination: USA will explore America's travel hot spots. A series of quarterly specials, American Icons, visits popular domestic landmarks, the Vietnam Memorial, Kennedy Space Center, Arlington National Cemetery and the Hoover Dam.

Travel found its version of a hit earlier this month in TV Road Trip, a two-hour special visiting famous TV-show locales like the Brady Bunch house and Dallas's South Fork ranch. TV Road Trip earned a 1.1 rating April 7, the net's third-highest rating ever. A sequel and offshoot Movie Road Trip are in development.

Discovery Communications is shelling out $370 million for 3,000 hours of original programming this year.

"Given the rough economy, many of our competitors are cutting back," John Ford, head of Discovery's content group, said at last week's New York upfront presentation. "We're going the other way."

The Discovery Channel received the lion's share, $150 million, but each of Discovery's portfolio of other networks—Animal Planet, The Learning Channel, Travel Channel, Discovery Health, Discovery Kids and five digital services—will get an injection of originals.

What you won't see on a Discovery net is racy content, even if series like MTV's The Osbournes
and FX drama The Shield
are delivering spectacular Nielsen ratings.

"Advertisers are squeamish on cable nets with controversial programming," Ford said. "The advantage of cable is there are many places to go."

Some portion of Discovery Channel's coffers will go to five new series: Hi Tech History, which investigates historical events, Building Big,
a look at how modern marvels like skyscrapers and bridges are constructed; Monster Garage; People Watch; and Surprise by Design.
Specials also slated to receive funds include Titanic
director James Cameron's expedition to the Bismarck shipwreck.

TLC continues its cult redecorating hit, Trading Spaces, with college and celebrity episodes. A companion series, While You Were Out, will launch in the fourth quarter. A sports special, Chariot Race 2002,
will re-create ancient horse-and-carriage competitions.

Animal Planet, the only family member experimenting with fictional and scripted originals, is planning six made-for-TV movies and a sitcom, Bad Dog. In September, Animal Planet will revive Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
with six one-hour specials.

TLC also plans to explore original movie projects.

Corporate cousin BBC America (Discovery handles its ad sales and distribution) continues importing hit British comedies and dramas. Two comedies, Manchild
("London's answer to Sex and the City,"
explains COO Paul Lee) and Friends
knock-off Coupling, debut later this year.

Discovery Health plans to debut women's health talk show Berman & Berman: For Women Only
in the fourth quarter, along with Medical Profile,
which investigates diseases afflicting celebrities.

Travel to keep truckin'

Travel to keep truckin'

More than seven months have passed since Sept. 11, but the Travel Channel is still struggling to regain its footing. The travel industry remains in a funk, and cable news networks are stealing away viewers. Prime time ratings dropped 40% in the first quarter, from a 0.5 last year to a 0.3.

"The strength of the travel genre is still there; it's just going to take time to rebound," said John Ford, head of Discovery Networks content group, who oversees Travel Channel and its sister networks.

Discovery added the Travel Channel to its portfolio in 1997 and has guided distribution to 64 million, including 14 million new subs since last year. The channel, though, is still searching for its audience.

Avid travelers, research has shown, don't watch enough TV, while couch potatoes don't do all that much traveling. To play to both crowds and still grow, Travel is homing in on popular destinations.

Ford would rather call it "The Destination Channel." "It's not so much about how to get there," he said, because the emphasis has shifted from informational to aspirational shows.

American travel is the focus of two upcoming projects. Coming in the fourth quarter, new series Destination: USA will explore America's travel hot spots. A series of quarterly specials, American Icons, visits popular domestic landmarks, the Vietnam Memorial, Kennedy Space Center, Arlington National Cemetery and the Hoover Dam.

Travel found its version of a hit earlier this month in TV Road Trip, a two-hour special visiting famous TV-show locales like the Brady Bunch house and Dallas's South Fork ranch. TV Road Trip earned a 1.1 rating April 7, the net's third-highest rating ever. A sequel and offshoot Movie Road Trip are in development.

 

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