Ted Koppel extolled the virtues of cable TV in explaining why he has chosen the Discovery Networks as the outlet for his latest work, calling Discovery "a better place to be right now" than network TV.
The veteran ABC newsman, speaking live from Guantanamo Bay, said cable’s lesser dependence on advertising revenue and Discovery’s worldwide recognition made the medium better suited to allow the type of "harder-edged" reporting he is looking to do.
"With Discovery, you have a network committed to doing precisely the type of programming my colleagues and I want to do and precisely the type of programming, for commercial reasons, the networks simply cannot and are not doing anymore," he said.
With producing partner Tom Bettag, Koppel will produce six to seven major specials per year for the Discovery Channel, as well as programs for other Discovery Networks’ programming.
They are currently traveling around the world for the first special in the Koppel on Discovery, series, to be titled "Security and Liberty." Next up, they will combine footage they have shot in Southern Lebanon and the Persian Gulf with what they shoot on a trip to Iran this fall for a special on the Middle East.
Criticizing network news divisions for saying they cannot afford to dispatch correspondents to foreign bases like India, Koppel called not committing resources to such stories a "travesty" and said he is aiming to report on stories that have an "impact on the lives of all Americans."
Koppel noted that, because cable networks like Discovery get revenue from license fees and not just advertisements, the pressure to mold news in such a way that it appeals to younger viewers is not as great.
Discovery’s brand, he said he was surprised to find, is actually more recognized by people around the world who see the cable channel and might never see ABC News. Discovery’s more than 160 outlets around the world have the potential to reach 1 billion people and cable programs, as Koppel pointed out, are often replayed several times.
Pointing out that with still massive audiences – ABC, NBC and CBS collectively reach 30 million people each night – network news is still a "tremendous force," he said evening-news programs "aren’t what they used to be."
"In entertainment programming," he said, "there is absolutely nothing wrong with networks catering to not just the needs but the desires of their audiences, but when it comes to news coverage, I think we have an additional responsibility and that is to tell people what they need to know and what they ought to know."