The launch of the National Geographic Channel in the U.S. last month added another heavy-weight broadcaster to an already crowded field, but opportunities for indies will be limited, at least in the short term. Says Christine Kuppens, VP of programming for the channel, "Our plan is to introduce 400 original hours in our first year, and those will be a mix of external production as well as the internal partnerships." She notes, however, that about 260 of those original hours will come from Nat Geo’s nightly live news cast, leaving only about 140 hours up for grabs.
In addition to freshly minted in-house productions from both National Geographic Television and the Fox Television studios, the U.S. channel has the full archive of National Geographic programming from which to draw. As a result, the U.S. channel will not differ dramatically from the international channels. Says Kuppens, "Certainly there is going to be not only similar subject matter, but similar shows that will be aired globally. However, we are all in tune to our specific marketplaces."
Andrew Wilk, National Geographic Channel’s executive VP of programming, production and news, advises producers to make sure they contact the right source when pitching. "Only the National Geographic Channel can greenlight production, not National Geographic Television. They are a producer for us."
With cable and satellite distribution, the U.S. Nat Geo Channel is currently accessible in 10 million households across the country. According to VP of communications Russell Howard, that number will increase to at least 28 million over the next four years, based on existing commitments. While Howard was open about the number of households, he was coy when it came to eyeballs, stating that the channel will not be rated in its first year.
In other Nat Geo news, National Geographic Television’s commercial library arm is opening a London office, its first outside the United States. Ian Morris, formerly of the Image Bank, is heading up the United Kingdom division. He is joined by Eileen Patskin, who will handle marketing.