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National Geo Renews Bulk of Fall Slate

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Coming off the September premiere of its first full slate of original series, National Geographic Channel is set to announce renewals for three of its five freshman shows. “Seconds From Disaster,” “Naked Science” and “MegaStructures” have all received second-season orders.

“All performed well very consistently in the ratings; all are pleasing us with their fit for the brand; all are bringing in new viewers,” said John Ford, executive VP of programming for the network.

The fate of the channel’s other new shows-“Interpol Investigates” and “Expeditions to the Edge”-have yet to be decided.

“Both `Interpol’ and `Expeditions’ did about 40 percent better than prime-time averages a year ago,” Mr. Ford said. “But overall, the network is up about 80 percent, so the bar is set high for renewal.”

National Geographic Channel is a joint venture between National Geographic and Fox Cable Networks, which handles the network’s distribution and ad sales. The channel has enjoyed rapid subscriber growth (up 12 percent in 2004 to 52 million) since its debut. Though the National Geographic brand is 117 years old, the channel just turned 4 this month.

Among prime-time viewers 18 to 49, the network is up 77 percent this year. Among total viewers, it is up 66 percent. National Geographic is also gradually bringing down its median age-from 53 in 2003 to 48 last year.

Granted, the channel’s ratings had nowhere to go but up-from a 2003 chicken-scratch average to a 0.1. But aside from the premiere of its fall slate, the network has found ways to package its content. For example, it has programmed one-shot theme nights, such as having three shows related to superstructures or debunking myths. It’s also drawn viewers with critic-friendly specials such as “Inside the U.S. Secret Service” and “Unlocking Da Vinci’s Code,” both of which busted the 1 million viewer ceiling.

“We’re looking for things that pay off on the promise of strong storytelling,” Mr. Ford said. “Think big-big events, science that matters, historical stories that are iconic.”

This month National Geographic Channel is also celebrating the channel’s debut of “Explorer,” which has aired for 20 years on networks as varied as Nickelodeon, TBS and MSNBC. Acquiring distribution of the program has been a top goal of the channel since its launch. “To finally have it be on the rightful home is great,” Mr. Ford said.