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Geographic girds for dual feed

Oct 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The National Geographic Channel, one of the more impressive cable launches of the past decade, is pruning its signature show and rejiggering its schedule in anticipation of a switch to dual programming feeds and still more growth in 2003.
National Geographic, a joint venture of Fox Cable Networks and the film-TV division of Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic Society, will be in 40 million homes by December. That’s up from 26 million homes just six months ago. Fox Cable Networks has commitments that will raise that total to 57 million by 2007.
Quick success has brought a new set of challenges, and network president Laureen Ong is making changes to capitalize on National Geographic’s growth. She is cutting “National Geographic Today” by 30 minutes to help the channel grow. The new schedule, which launches Nov. 4, will feature the new half-hour-long “National Geographic Today” at 7 p.m., followed by a half-hour strip of weekly series.
Ms. Ong said the move made sense because National Geographic has acquired or developed plenty of half-hour product that it didn’t have at first. And with a planned West Coast feed on the way, half-hours are a proven way to help midsized networks build audience.
National Geographic will still produce 260 original episodes of “Nat Geo Today” next year.
The 60-person staff of “Nat Geo Today” will be reduced by about a third. Ms. Ong expects those people to be reassigned to other positions at the channel, which employs just under 200 people, or elsewhere in National Geographic Television & Film.
Converting the show to a half-hour format will reduce the channel’s original programming output by 130 hours. Ms. Ong noted, however, that the channel is still acquiring or originating more than 525 hours of content next year, and holding it all to the same standards viewers expect of Geographic programs on network TV.
Ms. Ong hasn’t set a firm date for the switch to a dual feed but would like it to happen in second quarter of 2003.