HEALTH THE NEW FRONTIER FOR DCI: stand-alone co. formed to share equity in analog with distribution partners...
February 1, 1999

HEALTH THE NEW FRONTIER FOR DCI: stand-alone co. formed to share equity in analog with distribution partners

The Discovery Health Channel is moving into the world of U.S. basic cable with a vengeance. DCI will be pumping up to US$350 million into Discovery’s health venture, which includes an interactive service – Discovery Health Online – as well as the analog channel. Both fall under the auspices of a new stand-alone company called Discovery Health Media Inc.

With the creation of Discovery Health Media Inc, cable operators and distributors will be offered a piece of Discovery Health’s pie. ‘The reason a new company is being established,’ says McReynolds, ‘is to create new ways in which our distribution partners can share, or potentially share, in the equity of this venture.’

The Health Channel isn’t an entirely new undertaking for DCI. Last July, DCI launched Discovery Health as part of the digital network ‘to test the waters and get out there and claim some of the initial digital slots,’ DCI chairman and CEO John Hendricks has said.

Now that Discovery Health is going analog (the digital channel is part of Tele-Communications Inc. hits package), the fate of its digital counterpart is up for grabs. According to Discovery’s VP of communications Lynn McReynolds, it’s possible DCI will maintain Health on both the analog and digital networks but it’s not likely. ‘Right now, we’re leaning towards having one service and basically migrating the Discovery Health Channel that launched as part of the digital service,’ she says.

Discovery spokespeople are being coy about the launch date for the analog version of Discovery Health Channel, though McReynolds did say, ‘We anticipate having some of the investment in the programming up and running by the second quarter [April to June].’

New original programming on the 24-hour U.S. channel will include such shows as 21st Century Medicine, about future treatment options and possibilities, and Your Body, about women’s health issues. McReynolds says ‘the vast majority’ of content will be original, even more so than on their other analog networks, ‘since with health and medical breakthroughs, it’s an area that needs to be constantly updated.’As with other Discovery domestic networks, most content will be coproduced or commissioned.

DCI’s decision to elbow its way into the tight, competitive analog market with a fifth channel was partly due to the popularity of such health series as Trauma: Life in the ER, TLC’s highest rated show. Hendricks has said ‘…we’ve examined the ratings of our own health-related programs and studied those viewers and their interest. We’re convinced that the ratings [of the revamped health channel] will be strong.’

Although McReynolds says Discovery Health Channel’s target audience is 25 to 54-year-olds, Hendricks has noted the particular appeal health and medical information holds for aging Boomers. ‘There’s a stunning statistic that every 17 seconds another Baby Boomer turns 50,’ he said. ‘At that age, and with their families, it’s a very powerful concern.’ Hendricks said he expects Discovery Health to reach 60 million households within five to seven years.

Susan Rayman


Washington distributor Devillier Donegan Enterprises has stepped up to the plate for fellow Mouseketeers, ABC/Kane Productions. DDE has agreed to oversee both the management of new productions and the distribution of the ABC/Kane catalog. The new deal assures productions already in the works will be completed on schedule.

As of January 15th, ABC/Kane had closed both coastal offices. On the East coast, they made the move to DDE HQ, and on the West, their new accommodations are provided by ABC Entertainment in Century City. It is expected that both William Larkin and Liz DeFrance will remain in their current positions at the prodco. Brendan Christie

IF YOU’RE WONDERING WHY OSCAR ISN’T SMILING: Short doc category will disappear

Short docs will be getting short-changed this year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Since 1943, the Academy has offered two awards, one for documentary features and one for documentary shorts. Starting with the awards for 1999, only one Oscar will be available to documentary filmmakers in a single, new category: Best Documentary.

Academy president Robert Rehme says a separate award for shorts could not reasonably be kept alive any longer. ‘The combined category will continue to give the really extraordinary short theatrical documentary a place to be recognized but, except for the imax[large format] films, there really isn’t enough non-television work in the genre to justify a separate award these days.’

Betsy McLane, executive director of the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles, couldn’t disagree more. The IDA runs an annual event in October wherein docs are screened theatrically to make them eligible for the Academy Awards. ‘I think that some of the people who are making the decisions at the Academy really may not be familiar with the scope of the theatrical documentary market,’ she says. ‘It just isn’t the same market that you would necessarily find The Prince of Egypt or The Thin Red Line in.’

McLane fears that short docs will be at a disadvantage against features. ‘It’s almost impossible for a 10-minute film to compete with a 90-minute film. It’s simply not the same kind of filmmaking.’

Jessica Yu, whose feature-length doc The Living Museum premiered at Sundance this year, agrees with McLane. ‘There are a lot of wonderful films now that won’t be honored because of people dismissing the [short doc] genre,’ she says. ‘There are just some subjects that are better suited to being shorts than features.’ Yu won an Oscar in 1996 for her 35-minute short Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.

The Academy’s board of governors made the decision January 7. The new rules will not apply to the 71st Academy Awards, scheduled for March 21. susan rayman

NATPE NOTES: a slew of announcements

At RealScreen press time, NATPE was well underway in New Orleans, as evidenced by the throng of buyers/autograph seekers surrounding Daisy Fuentes and the hordes of distributors/groupies craning their necks for a better look at aging-and-scary glam rockers KISS.

While the non-fiction sector of the market was notably less glitzy (and mercifully less cheesy), it was no less busy.

Studio City-based GRB Entertainment was promoting its recent licensing deal with CBS News Productions. GRB has a three-year deal to distribute over 400 hours of CBS News programming outside of North America, Japan and Australia. CBS News Productions executive director/executive producer Margery Baker-Riker suggested that CBS and GRB will develop and produce new projects for the international market from the material. The CBS library includes Scandal, 50 half-hours on the faux pas of the rich, famous and powerful; The Things People Do, 65 half-hours on eccentrics; and Against the Law, 65 half-hours on what GRB calls ‘edgy crimes.’ The deal was good news for GRB, which had expected to be closing deals for its syndicated reality series TAC-1: Real Heroes at this market, but hit a snag with partners Worldvision and Spelling Entertainment.

California-based E! Entertainment Television Networks made a number of international announcements, including the platform for its third foreign 24-hour service launch, set to happen in Poland on April 1. A co-venture with Zone Vision, a London-based holding company, the service will initially be available to 800,000 subs on the @Entertainment platform. The service, which will air over 400 hours of E! fare annually in addition to some local programs and interstitials, will eventually roll out to Russia and Romania. E! was also touting an expansion of its licensing agreement with Australia’s Arena TV (seven E! series have been renewed, and three new series have been added) and two new licensing agreements in Asia (26 episodes of Fashion Emergency to Singapore Cable Vision for its Eureka Learning Channel, and the E! News Feed to Galaxy, the pan-Asian satellite channel owned by TVB).

Discovery Networks International used NATPE as a platform to discuss its initiatives for Latin America. In addition to expanding its First Time Filmmakers program into Argentina (the program has run in the U.K., South America and the former East Germany), and holding its annual Eco-Challenge in Argentina this year, DNI will stage a two-day Latin America Producers Workshop in Miami. The event is invitation only, and it’s designed to help develop the doc genre in the region. Indie producers will pitch a total of 19 projects, three of which will be selected for development by Discovery Network Latin America/Iberia. Participants will include Canal 13 (Argentina), Megavision (Chile), TV Azteca (Mexico), France 3, the BBC, ARTE and PBS, among others.

(In a totally un-related, yet somehow fascinating Discovery item, the broadcaster sent a release on the first day of the market boasting that His Holiness Pope John Paul II would be enjoying three Discovery docs during his flight from Mexico to Missouri. Mexicana de Aviacion Airlines apparently thought City of the Gods, Clash of Maya Kings and The Mysteries of Tajin – all from the Archeology series – were suitable viewing for a Pontiff).

As news-magazines continue to proliferate on the dial, the International Emmy Awards announced a new category for 1999: News and Events Coverage. The content of eligible programs, according to N.A.T.A.S. (National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences) can be ‘homogeneous.’ The show must have first aired outside the U.S. between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 1999 to qualify. The Foreign Press Association will be doing the judging.

Over in the British Pavilion, Tigress Productions was talking about a ramp-up in its production schedule due to commissions from ITV in the U.K. and WNET in the U.S. Grant Mansfield from ITV is asking for a 6 x 30-minute series called Man Eaters (w/t) to air in primetime in 2000. The series, about to begin production, will feature confrontations between humans and some other very scary species. Tigress is in pre-production on Making Baby Animals (w/t), its 12th celebrity wildlife special, for WNET. The one-off features Whoopi Goldberg pairing up rare animals in the San Diego Zoo.

Cisneros Television Group announced it had purchased Chum Limited’s MuchMusic Argentina, the Buenos Aires music service. CTG plans to partner with Toronto-based ChumCity International to develop more MuchMusic channels in Iberoamerica.

In a more classic NATPE-type deal, all Fox Television Stations in all 22 of their U.S. markets renewed the Barbour/Langley series COPS for the 1999/2000 series. COPS is now a veritable syndication veteran, having premiered in the Fall of 1992. Mary Ellen Armstrong

60 MINUTES’ WEDNESDAY’S CHILD: spin-off exec denies opposition from Hewitt and Wallace

Described as more of an aspiring clone than a spin-off, CBS’ 60 Minutes II (launched in mid-January) was presented at the Television Critics Association Tour in Pasadena as a bright spot in an otherwise bleak scenario for producer CBS. At the January 9th event, Leslie Moonves, CBS president and CEO, and Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Entertainment, fended off press inquiries regarding severe network ratings erosion and the rumor that CBS News, having landed the number one spot in network news, is still losing money.

The network appeared anything but beleaguered, however, when the 60 Minutes II correspondents took the stage, including heavy-hitting broadcast journalists Dan Rather, Charlie Rose, Bob Simon and Vicki Mabrey, along with executive producer Jeff Fager (the creator of 48 Hours who helped bring CBS News into the number one slot in 1998).

Fager dispelled reports that 60 Minutes veterans Mike Wallace and exec producer Don Hewitt remain opposed to creation of a spin-off (searchable @, noting that he was now working with both ‘to try our best to copy or imitate the quality and high standards of 60 Minutes.’ He also denied that the addition of humorous entertainer Jimmy Tingle to the 60 Minutes II lineup will weaken the line between news and entertainment, noting that Tingle has been a columnist for MSNBC and is an excellent writer.

Fager did not deny that the new magazine’s correspondent team represents a younger 60 Minutes, although he hopes to attract the same broad viewer demo of the original. As for the division of stories between the original and 60 Minutes II, Dan Rather admitted, ‘Mike Wallace gets what he wants – he’s earned that. If he wants to do a story he gets to do it. The rest of the stories the [other correspondents] get to squabble over.’

Asked if Rather will have to ‘parachute into stories’ given his busy schedule of CBS Nightly News, 48 Hours and 60 Minutes II, Rather evoked the Peter Arnett incident at CNN, noting that errors in stories are a danger in this particular kind of journalism: ‘To spend a life as a reporter is to be humbled by your mistakes. When you work on a show like 60 Minutes II, you have to do what every doctor does in triage – you say, `this is where I’m going to spend my time.”

Addressing the glut of news magazines, Rather argued that the 60 Minutes brand was worth extending because it represents the highest journalistic standard for the genre. ‘When you see that stopwatch [on-screen], we have to make sure we live up to that standard.’ 60 Minutes II airs on CBS Wednesday nights from 9-10pm ET/PT. Virginia Robertson


In a US$576 million deal, Canada’s CanWest Global made a successful offer to purchase NetStar Communications, creating for itself a large, vertically integrated national production empire, getting the Canadian specialty channels TSN (The Sports Network) and The Discovery Channel Canada, in addition to an array of post facilities.

CanWest will now be able to package sports properties to sell to conventional and specialty channels, and use Discovery Canada-owned inventory on its Canadian network, Global.

While pending the usual CRTC approval, the purchase is also subject to the exercise of pre-emptive rights by Disney subsidiary ESPN, which owns the remaining 32% of the company and which has the option to find another buyer for NetStar. NetStar’s assets include TSN, French service RDS, TSN SportsRadio, and Discovery Canada. The company also owns the extremely popular website. CanWest says it estimates NetStar’s current year revenues at $181 million with operating profit over $53 million. Teressa Iezzi


U.K.-based natural history producer, Survival, has clinched a US$2.5 million commission from the ITV Network to produce eight one-hour wildlife films.

Survival, which is part of United Wildlife, is to deliver the shows to ITV by the end of 2000 for broadcast in 2001. International distribution of the films will be handled by ITEL.

Survival executive producer Petra Regent said: ‘We are delighted that ITV has shown this degree of commitment towards natural history programming. The commissions continue the Survival tradition of breaking new ground and setting new standards in wildlife filmmaking.’

Featured in the new series of films will be Russian grizzly bears, the swamp gorillas of the African Congo, chimps, killer whales, elephants, lemurs, hyenas and the underwater world of crocodiles.

Survival has lined-up a raft of top filmmaking talent to create the series. Key names include Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, Bruce Davidson, Martin Dohrn and Barbara Tyack.

itel is confident that the new series will perform well on the international market. To date, the Survival unit has made 1000 episodes which have sold to in excess of 110 territories. Andy Fry

MONTE-CARLO TO FOCUS ON FORMATS: doc award to come next year

This year, the Monte-Carlo Television Festival and Market (Feb. 21-24, Monte-Carlo Grand Hotel) is all about building bridges – between the festival and the market, that is. And the main link is through public screenings. Market general manager David Tomatis notes, ‘It’s the first time that the market participants, especially the exhibitors, have taken advantage of the opportunity to do some premiere screenings inside the festival.’ Debuting docs include U.S.-based GRB Entertainment’s War Dogs (European premiere) and French-based Metropole Television’s Bolivia: The Devil’s Mines.

New within the market itself this year is a focus on formats. According to Tomatis, format reps have a separate listing in the guide and special name badges to wear. In Tomatis’ opinion, Monte-Carlo offers them the right atmosphere to do business. ‘It’s an environment that is more calm. They have time to discuss in depth. These are the conditions that they need regarding the format activity.’

Another first at Monte-Carlo is the introduction of the European Producer Award, which is currently for fiction production only, though that may change. ‘Next year, we’re probably going to extend it,’ Tomatis says, adding that documentaries have a good chance of being included. This year’s lucky winner will receive the award at the festival’s closing gala February 24.

Weighing in as the little market that could, Monte-Carlo’s popularity appears to be on the rise. ‘We’re picking up a lot of new companies that will be with us for the first time,’ Tomatis says. ‘Last year we had around 1,800 participants altogether and this year we’re on a trend where we’re probably going to see 2,000.’ Susan Rayman


Bob Strange has resigned as C4′s deputy commissioning editor for science to return to independent production. He will leave on March 8 and be replaced by Dan Chambers, who has been working in the department as a senior editorial consultant for the last six months, and will report to science commissioning editor Sara Ramsden. Chambers will take over responsibility for the new History Lab strand, for stories which combine history and science. The strand has already commissioned one project: a doc from Twenty Twenty Television (U.K.) on the science behind the explosion of the Hindenburg airship. JMA

Former international sales manager at TV World, Jayne Pitts has been appointed deputy head of tv program sales at London distributor, Primetime Television Associates.

National Geographic Video has named Catherine J. Hagney vice president of domestic home video. Hagney was formerly vice president of brand development for U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, and The Atlantic Monthly.

At Carlton, Mark Gray has been appointed head of program development and acquisition. Anthony Utley, who formerly held the position, recently made the jump to the BBC. Ian Moffitt, currently commercial executive at Carlton International, will move to assist Gray, as development and acquisition executive.

Linda Berkeley, former chairman of MCA’s merchandising group, has been named the new executive vice president of National Geographic Ventures. Berkeley will be responsible for the new Enterprises Group, which will handle branded licensing and merchandising. Joining Berkeley in the new Enterprises Group is John Dumbacher, who will head up NG’s merchandising activities. Dumbacher was formerly the vice president of licensing and new business development for the Universal Studios Consumer Products Group.

The Travel Channel has named Adam Stotsky as vice president of advertising and promotions. Stotsky joins The Travel Channel after an extensive career in advertising.

Gaumont Multimedia has appointed Stéphane Parthenay as president. Parthenay was previously head of programming at Gaumont.

Emmy award-winning journalist Harry Smith has joined A&E as host of the network’s Biography series. Smith has a journalism career which spans 25 years, including almost a decade as an anchor on CBS’ This Morning.

Dick Clark Productions in California, has appointed Karen Smith as vice president of clearances in the film, television and music areas.

Photo gurus, Tony Stone Images, have established a place for a creative director, and appointed the current publisher of Creative Review magazine, Lewis Blackwell, to the position.

Ex-APTN library head, Patrick Smith, has made the jump to the Moving Image Library in London, as marketing and acquisitions exec.


* Discovery Latin America/Iberia has signed an agreement with the Latin American Institute for Educational Communications to make Discovery Kids available in 26,000 schools in Mexico. * Canal+ and Italian broadcaster RAI have signed an agreement for an Italian digital television platform, which will lead to the creation of 11 themed channels by the turn of the century. * London’s 3DD Entertainment has secured the international rights to a 90-minute doc entitled John Huston – War Stories, which contains footage shot by the legendary filmmaker during the Second World War, but subsequently banned from broadcast. * Discovery Networks Europe has entered a partnership with the Hungarian Cable Television Association and Hungary’s National Association of Cable Television Operators for the distribution of a localized version of Animal Planet, and the pick-up of the Discovery Channel, which has been available to the region since 1996. * East Germany’s Progress Film-Verleigh archive has forged an alliance with the Vietnamese Film Institute, to exclusively handle their footage worldwide. Much of the footage is from the military archives of the Vietnamese documentary studios, the work of 130 Vietnamese cameramen who operated behind Vietcong lines. * The American Program Service has changed its name to American Public Television, and has implemented a new look and website ( * ESPN Latin America topped 11.3 million households at the end of last year. * New York’s Archive Films will be distributing the Encyclopedia Britannica archive of educational films and videos. * Getty Images of L.A. has acquired the Imageways library of vintage films, including over 400 features, shorts, PSA’s, industrials, cartoons, newsreels and others. Imageways will be joining with Getty’s other archive concern, the Energy Film Library. * Discovery Canada ranked number one in viewer satisfaction last year, according to a Nielsen study. The top five channels, based on a score of ‘very satisfied’ on the poll are: Discovery (at 42%), tlc (at 40%), a&e (at 38%), The Sports Network (at 36%) and History Television (with 31%). * Paris’ Tele Images has created a stock footage arm to sell the 4,000 plus hours of natural history footage they have in their collection. * Unapix Entertainment, Story Street Productions and Films2People are working on a 2-hour doc entitled Nelson Mandela, which is now destined for PBS’ Frontline, some time in late May. * Five bidders are close to closing a deal for the Grinberg Collection, a stock footage archive founded in 1957, and containing several million feet of archival footage, including the Paramount Newsreels and Pathe News. * The Reuters Television Archive have dropped their website. * The international relief fund, care, has signed a deal with The Video Library to handle their 350 hours of footage.


Carlton TV fined £2 million for fake doc

U.K. broadcaster Carlton Communications (which owns three U.K. ITV franchises and significant digital interests) was fined £2 million by the Independent Television Commission for broadcasting the faked, award-winning documentary The Connection. In its ruling, ITC said that Carlton was guilty of, ‘a wholesale breach of trust between makers and viewers.’ Carlton has returned eight awards won by the film, and returned money to overseas broadcasters who bought the films. JMA

Sony launches Digital8

Sony has announced the launch of Digital8, a low-cost digital video system based on the 8mm and Hi-8 standard. Significantly cheaper than existing digital video systems, the camcorder is also backwards compatible – it can play older 8mm and Hi-8 tapes. It uses 8mm or Hi-8 tapes as its recording medium, and includes the `i.Link’ digital interface system (Sony’s version of Firewire). This allows images to be fed directly into a desk-top computer for editing, manipulation or copying, with no loss of image quality. It also permits the camera to be linked up to other digital hardware such as sound editing equipment. JMA

Films from Cambodia

Films which could contain evidence of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia have surfaced in Paris at System-TV. The head of Cambodia’s Documentation Centre (funded by Yale University), had previously claimed that over 1,000 hours of material, taken to France for ‘restoration’ may, in fact, have been sold. Now System-TV, France’s 6th largest tv company, says it has 40 documentaries from the lost material, but does not have the full 1,000 hours. According to chairman Daniel Renouf, System-TV’s films will ‘probably not provide evidence.’ His company plans to complete the restoration in four to five months. Renouf further states that more important filmic evidence of the Cambodian genocide could exist in Vietnam or Eastern Europe, where the original processing was done. The United Nations is currently considering the establishment of a Cambodian War Crimes tribunal. JMA

WHO Award

The deadline for entries for the new World Health Organization’s Health 21 Media Award is March 31st. Entries are open to docs under one hour and PSA’s. Check out the who website ( for details, or e-mail

PBS gets Corporate bucks

The PBS Sponsorship Group has announced a record second quarter of US$12.2 million in corporate sponsorships. The amount represents a 58% increase over last year’s second quarter results of US$7.5 million.

Formed in July 1997, by four of PBS’ largest program producers (WGBH Boston, WNET New York, WETA in Washington and KCET of Los Angeles), the sponsorship group looks to find funding for public broadcasting in corporate America. Helping to push the drive this year was McDonald’s, Samsung and Best-Buy, Ford, Cigna and Chick-fil-A, Porter Cable and Delta Tools, Lilypons, as well as Chubb.

WETA in launch mode

WETA, Washington’s PBS incarnation, and the Freedom Forum, a private foundation which promotes free speech and free press, have announced a partnership which will culminate in the launch of The Forum Network. The new station will be a commercial-free, public affairs cable channel for the Washington area. The new initiative will be up and running by late spring. WETA also plans for a November launch of Fanfare, a local classical music station supported by ad revenues.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.