BBC-Discovery deal near

LONDON — Discovery Communications and the British Broadcasting Corp. are finally on the verge of completing their global partnership deal, which has been in negotiation since last year.

The deal includes plans to launch at least three international channels and an extensive program of co-productions in the documentary field.

It also paves the way for the U.S. debut of the news channel BBC World and the entertainment service BBC America as part of Discovery’s digital package this fall.

The many layers of the deal, along with the BBC’s unique agenda as a pubcaster entering a commercial business, were responsible for delaying the conclusion of negotiations far longer than either side expected.

Yet the first fruit of the partnership is already on the air. Animal Planet, a satellite channel devoted to fauna, launched July 1 via Eutelsat, and already has 1 million subscribers in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Other channels in the works include one in Latin America and a worldwide Learning Channel.

Discovery’s John Hendricks is in London this week to seal the main elements of the partnership with the BBC Worldwide team, headed by Bob Phillis and Dick Emery. They will unveil details of their progress Thursday at a press briefing at the BBC’s Broadcasting House.

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