Nat Geo web ups Wilk to exec VP

Fox set to distrib new net

The still-in-development U.S. version of the National Geographic Channel has set up a division for programming and production, elevating Andrew Wilk to run it as exec VP.

In addition to drawing on a massive film library to fill the schedule of the 24-hour Nat Geo Channel, which will kick off in January, Wilk said he plans to produce “lots of new programs that will be dedicated exclusively to the new network.”

Fox — which owns 75% of the U.S. Nat Geo Channel — is distributing the network, which will make its debut in about 10 million cable and satellite homes, with guaranteed rollouts funneling it to 25 million or so subscribers by the end of year three. Nat Geo TV owns the other 25% of the channel.

Wilk says the plan is to start with some original programming to go with the library product in the first year, and then ramp up the volume of first run shows as the subscriber base expands and delivers more ad revenues and cable-operator license fees to Nat Geo’s coffers.

Varied programming

The programming will go well beyond documentaries and nature films, he says, to include docudramas based on historical fact like the ABC movie “Stanley’s Search for Livingstone,” which National Geographic produced with Hallmark.

Wilk says the network will also buy existing theatrical movies, citing as an example “Gorillas in the Mist,” with Sigourney Weaver, which the network would embellish with a docu about the life and work of Dian Fossey, whom Weaver portrayed in the film.

Last week, the Nat Geo Channel U.S. named Dennis Patton to the new post of exec VP of marketing and new media.

So far web has landed carriage deals with two of the largest cable operators, AT&T and Adelphia, and with the biggest direct broadcast satellite distributor, DirecTV.

The network is offering cable operators a one-time payment of up to $5 a subscriber for carriage. But in exchange National Geographic is demanding an unusually aggressive monthly license fee of 16¢ per subscriber — triple what most new networks ask from operators.

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