Named for one of the grand masters of scientific discovery, there’s no mistaking the mission of the Einstein Channel. ‘We’re really keen on science as it touches everybody’s daily life,’ says channel head Stuart Pearson. Billing itself as a ‘channel devoted to cutting-edge science and technology,’ the upstart digital service is determined to establish a firm foothold in 16 European territories within a year. At the moment, the 24-hour channel, which was launched in August, is distributed only by Deutsche Telekom in Germany. Come January 18, 2001, however, British viewers will be able to tune in, courtesy of Astra satellite. (The channel’s head office is in London, with operations headquarters in Berlin.)
Along with wider distribution in the new year, the Einstein Channel will undergo significant structural changes. Pearson explains: ‘We’re re-positioning the service, almost like a rolling news service – kind of similar to CNN, but specializing in science and technology. What that means is the content isn’t going to be made up of traditional programs. It’s going to be a sequence of shorter items – like news stories – introduced by a presenter from a studio.’
At the moment, Pearson says, the channel acquires around 60% of its content; the remainder is generated in-house. However, he expects to reverse that ratio over the next six months, as the rolling news format will take up about 70% of the schedule. ‘Within a given hour, we might have the first half-hour as the rolling news format. Then, if we want to explore a piece in more depth or we come across a particularly strong or interesting program, we can run that in the second half-hour,’ he says.
Company CEO Steve Timmins says the channel’s most recent acquisitions include such programs as Scrapheap Challenge and Six Great Experiments from the U.K.’s Channel 4. Generally, the Einstein Channel pays acquisition fees from about £5,000 to £10,000 (US$7,000 to $15,000), he says. In preparation for the European roll-out, every program is dubbed into German, English, Italian, French and Spanish, which adds £3,000 to £7,000 (US$4,500 to $10,000) to the cost of each title.
The revamped Einstein Channel will focus on four key genres: space, life science, technology and earth science. Pearson explains that during a four-hour block, each genre will fill one hour. The same pattern of genres will repeat every four hours, though with different content.
Space was a natural pick, considering the origins of the outlet. According to Pearson, the idea began with a conversation between the European Space Agency and Timmins about the feasibility of creating an ESA Channel. Says Pearson, ‘When we got on with looking at that, we realized that there was a market for much more, that there was much more scope than just something dedicated to ESA, and that there was a genuine, unfilled niche for science and technology.’
In addition to forming a relationship with the ESA, Pearson says they’d like to cooperate with universities, science institutions and even commercial companies, to get a closer look at how science affects what they do. As an example, he cites talks between the Einstein Channel and Wembly Stadium about the possibility of filming a series of reports about the science behind demolishing and rebuilding the structure.