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Nat’l Geographic teams for U.S. debut

Cabler inks with AT&T Broadband, DirecTV

FROM WESTERN CABLE
The National Geographic Channel, which reaches 50 million homes in 57 countries, has firmed up plans to engineer its American debut, signing long-term deals with AT&T Broadband, the second largest cable operator in the U.S., and with DirecTV, the biggest U.S. satellite distrib of cable networks.

Lindsay Gardner, exec VP of affiliate sales and distribution for the Fox Channels Group, said the National Geographic Channel plans to make a frontal assault on the Discovery Channel, with a goal to harvest at least 7.5 million AT&T/DirecTV subscribers by the second quarter of 2000, when National Geographic officially will kick off the channel. The parties announced the deal at the Western Cable Show taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Trio team

Fox, NBC and National Geographic each own a one-third interest in the channel, with Fox handling all of the nonprogramming activities, such as distribution, marketing and ad sales, and National Geographic taking care of production and scheduling of the programming.

Gardner declined to discuss the terms of the deal, but sources said both AT&T and DirecTV will start off paying 15¢ a month per sub — an aggressive license fee for a new network — with the price rising by a penny a month for each subsequent year of the contract. AT&T has signed a 10-year deal and DirecTV a nine-year contract, unusually long durations for a new network.

Nickel a sub

As an inducement to clinch the deal, National Geographic will pay AT&T and DirecTV about 5¢ a subscriber for what the industry calls the “launch budget,” which many new networks have to pony up to secure carriage on cable and satellite.

The web’s programming, Gardner said, will include original documentaries, and repeats of the thousands of hours of series and specials in the National Geographic library. In “the nerve center of the network,” a TV studio in Washington, D.C., the production staff will tape a daily newscast and hosts will introduce many of the shows on the channel’s schedule.

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