Beeb’s big discovery

U.S. cabler to pump $500 mil into joint ventures

LONDON — Discovery Communications Inc. has disclosed it intends to spend at least $500 million to fund its TV channel and co-production joint ventures with the BBC.

At a briefing at BBC Broadcasting House in London, Discovery CEO John Hendricks and BBC Worldwide chief exec Bob Phillis also announced an Oct. 6 launch date for two Latin American services: the nature doc channel Animal Planet — which is presently available in the U.S. and some Europe markets — and a new cultural channel, People & Arts Network.

Also, the Beeb’s planned U.S. channel, BBC America — which will feature largely BBC drama and comedy programming — is expected to launch on analog and digital cable this fall. Editorially, the channel will be completely controlled by the BBC, with Discovery handling distribution.

The joint ventures will see the BBC acting primarily as programming provider. It is not putting up any of its own money for the ventures.

No specific date for a sign-off on the entire Discovery/BBC deal — which was agreed in principle last September — was given. Phillis said the scale of the joint venture would likely lead to new contracts being agreed over a period of years.

He hinted, however, that the majority of the 60 or so contracts currently under discussion should be a done deal come September, and added that the delays in finalizing had everything to do with the fact that as a pubcaster the BBC had “public service responsibilities” requiring complex bureaucratic approval as well as caution.

Outside the U.S., Animal Planet is 50/50 co-owned by Discovery and the BBC, and the BBC has a 20% stake in Animal Planet in the U.S. This was given in return for exclusivity to BBC product. Discovery will also pay for the programs.

Brand loyalty

Hendricks said that what Discovery gained from its partnership with the BBC — which he admitted might appear lopsided in the BBC’s favor — is the combination of two strong brands in the global market as well as the elimination of a potential competitor.

“Discovery will benefit in new markets without BBC competition,” he said. “We would rather own 50% of something successful than 100% of a channel in a fractured market.”

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