Discovery unearths doc, high-def coin

Co. may spend $3 bil on p'gramming over next 5 years

LONDON — Discovery Communications is preparing to boost its spending on documentary programming and put the accent on high-definition delivery.

Company founder and president John Hendricks told Daily Variety last week that the global factual broadcaster will spend at least $3 billion on programming over the next five years and that “it could be more if the ad market picks up.”

Hendricks said that in the first year, Discovery will spend about $550 million, including the $65 million already committed to “Atlas HD,” a series of 30 high-def specials featuring the world’s greatest destinations.

Discovery’s HD Theater channel went live June 17, 18 years to the day since the Discovery Channel went live in 1985.

Hendricks said the HD transmission is seen in around 100,000 U.S. homes, not that far from the 165,000 that were able to tune in to the company’s cable/satellite feed in 1985. Since then Discovery has grown to 14 network brands worldwide delivered by 85 satellite feeds in 33 languages.

Hendricks said he expected to have between 1 million and 2 million viewers in high-def by the end of 2004.

Toward that end, Discovery recently sponsored Silverdocs, a new docu festival organized by the American Film Institute at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Md., and just across the street from Discovery’s new HQ. Material from 62 countries was submitted. The final night’s gala honored the late Charles Guggenheim and his “Berga: Soldiers of Another War” documentary.

Hendricks said that the increased spend on programming would help give Discovery an edge in increasingly competitive markets.

“Digital cable and satellite TV gives viewers extra choice, and we expect other broadcasters to mimic some of our offerings, but we have a real competitive advantage thanks to our multiple channels.”