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Smithsonian Channel Launching in the U.K. with U.S. and Local Originals

The Smithsonian Channel is launching in the U.K. as a free-to-air service that will reach 19 million homes. It will carry shows from the U.S. such as “America in Color” and a slate of local originals including a documentary about Tariq Ali and Malcom X and a factual series fronted by Clive Anderson.

Smithsonian Channel is owned by Smithsonian Networks, which is a joint venture between Showtime and the Smithsonian Institution. The U.K. launch on Feb. 12 will be the most significant international move yet for the channel after earlier rollouts in Canada and Latin America.

“We know that internationally people respond to our programming and once we had some of those moves under our belt and saw we were getting a good reception, the U.K. was the big challenge,” David Royle, chief programming officer, Smithsonian Networks told Variety. “We’re already collaborating with a lot with U.K. companies. It felt this was the logical next move for us.”

Programming-wise, Royle said many of Smithsonian’s programs will run on both sides of the Atlantic, including its popular aerial photography shows, and the upcoming “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” a documentary looking at the true story of the motorist’s travel guide featured in the award-winning Hollywood movie. It will play on the channel between the BAFTA Awards in the U.K. and Oscars in the U.S.

Adding a local component was key to the launch, Royle said: “Having a clear British strategy – going out the gate with new commissions and involving the British production community – is at the core of our approach.”

Smithsonian will go out with U.K. originals including the documentary “When Tariq Ali Met Malcolm X” about a friendship between two controversial firebrands – British Marxist and anti-Vietnam war protester, Tariq Ali, and America’s black power advocate, Malcolm X.

There is also “Mystic Britain,” fronted by presenter Clive Anderson and anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota.

Royle added that Smithsonian’s wider cultural role positions it well with like-minded institutions around the world. Talks are already underway about programming possibilities with the London-based Victoria and Albert museum he said.

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