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Ong takes National Geographic Channel from scratch to success

When Laureen Ong took her post as president of the National Geographic Channel in 2000, she was the fledgling network’s first and only employee.

“It wouldn’t have been so bad except that I only had eight months to launch a full- fledged network,” Ong says. “That required hiring an additional 130 people, having a vision, building a studio, and getting enough revenue in place. You also have the overlay of an incredible brand that has a legacy and expectations by the consumer, where people expect to see quality, unbelievable imagery and great storytelling.”

Eight months later, on Jan. 1, 2001, National Geographic Channel went on the air. The net has since grown at an astonishing rate, from 10 million subscribers to more than 60 million in five years. But there were challenges along the way. Ong had to reconcile the differing cultures of National Geographic and the channel’s distributor, Fox Cable Network.

“The Fox way of doing things is aggressive,” she says. “The Geographic way is more thoughtful. It was a feat to try and bridge those two, but I was able to create our own culture separate from Fox and National Geographic (magazine).”

Last November, Ong was named Woman of the Year by Women in Cable and Telecommunications, and also became a member of C-100, an association of some of the nation’s most influential Chinese-Americans.

“I spent a fair amount of my career in the sports business, and I’ve come up the hard way through a pretty male-dominated business,” says Ong. “Women have made some tremendous headway in entertainment. Still there’s a ways to go.”

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