Smithsonian inks satellite pact

Channel to be carried on DirecTV

It’s showtime for the Smithsonian Channel, which has hammered out its first carriage agreement and will begin beaming out programming later this week.

High-def net, a partnership between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution, has inked a deal with DirecTV to be carried on channel 267 of the satcaster’s HD tier. It’s expected to go live by week’s end.

Short window between the announcement of the carriage deal and Smithsonian Channel’s actual launch indicates negotiations with carriers might have been a bit tough. Nonetheless, the deal means Smithsonian Channel will meet its previously announced goal of a September premiere date.

It also means Smithsonian Channel will be able to take advantage of DirecTV’s massive October marketing campaign hyping the satcaster’s dramatically expanded HD tiers, which will now include more than 100 channels of high-def programming.

Tom Hayden, exec VP and GM of Smithsonian Networks, said the channel hopes to program up to 200 hours of original content by the end of 2008, adding about 100 more each year. Talks also are ongoing with cable operators about adding the service to their HD tiers, with announcements expected in the coming weeks.

Hayden told Daily Variety that Smithsonian Channel also is continuing with plans to launch a major video-on-demand component to its service for cable customers, along with the linear HD channel.

As for specific programming, channel will use the resources of the Smithsonian Institution to compete with cablers such as Discovery and National Geographic Channel.

First major skein to launch will be “Stories From the Vaults,” a half-hour that peeks into the museum’s vaults and reveals the stories behind various artifacts. Tom Cavanagh (“Scrubs”) hosts.

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