In his first major interview as president of National Geographic Channels U.S., Howard T. Owens (pictured) discusses making the move from production exec to network president, and the plans afoot for Nat Geo.
While some would be a little reticent to make the move from the sunny climes of Los Angeles to the more, shall we say, varied temperatures felt in Washington, DC, Howard T. Owens is taking it in stride.
“I think it’s fun to be back in a place where the energy is hot and the weather’s cold,” says the recently appointed president of National Geographic Channels U.S.
Indeed, the energy in his new place of employment is, from outside appearances, undergoing a revitalization of sorts, mainly due to an influx of new blood in major executive roles.
The revamp began with the appointment of David Lyle as CEO of NGC U.S. and global programming last summer, and is continuing with the arrival of Owens, most recently lead managing director for Reveille, one of the prodcos behind NBC’s reality staple The Biggest Loser.
Owens, one of Reveille’s founding partners, says he’s known Lyle for years, dating back to his days as an agent at William Morris. He adds that once Lyle took the CEO role at NGC U.S., they began discussing Lyle’s plans for the networks – NGC, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo – and Owens was “inspired about what he was trying to do.”
“I’d been a longtime fan of the National Geographic brand and what it stood for, both domestically and worldwide,” says Owens. “I thought we were looking down the barrel at an amazing opportunity.”
Now that he’s part of that brand, Owens echoes the pronouncements that Lyle has made about his vision for the U.S. channels; specifically, a focus on character-driven programming that stays true to the brand’s core programming values.
“There’s a passion for exploration and adventure here and we want to add to it and invest in it,” he says. “We do it in a balanced and mature way, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be exciting.”
Owens adds that while there will be a push towards shows that are “more populist and that resonate in a greater way with our audience,” the long-standing hallmarks of Nat Geo programming – credibility and incredible access – will remain paramount concerns.
Still, the aim is revitalization; thus, moves will be made to put National Geographic Channels front of mind both for audiences and for the creative community. That will mean bolstering the ranks within. “I’ve found the executive gene pool here to be phenomenal,” Owens says, adding that the plans are afoot for “a big expansion into the West Coast” with moves to be announced in the coming weeks.
To read the full interview with Owens, check out the January/February issue of realscreen magazine, out now. Interested in becoming a subscriber? Click here for more details.