Exec new VP of content

National Geographic Channel is welcoming back a prodigal son, hiring Steve Burns for the new post of exec VP of content — the net’s top programming job.

Burns cut his docu producer‘s teeth at National Geographic TV from 1983-92, producing segments for the company’s “Explorer” series. In 1992, Burns ankled to join National Geographic’s chief rival, the Discovery Channel. Over the next 15 years, he shepherded nearly 2,000 hours of production a year across 10 Discovery networks, ending up as an exec VP.

One reason National Geographic has rehired Burns is to take the network “to the next level as part of a larger international strategy,” said CEO David Haslingden.

Burns succeeds John Ford, who resigned in February as exec VP of programming to set up his own production company. Burns will get more involved with international programming than Ford was because he’ll report to Haslingden; Ford reported to the domestic president at the time, Laureen Ong. (In March, National Geographic parent News Corp. shifted Ong over to the post of chief operating officer at the Hong Kong-based Star, a global network of cable channels.)

After a few years as one of the fastest-growing networks in cable, National Geographic has slowed down, adding only 1.5 million new subscribers in the last year (it has 64.4 million overall) and seeing its total number of viewers increasing only 2% during the second quarter after regularly piling up double-digit increases in previous quarters.

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