National Geographic Channel, NBC merge in Asia

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LONDON -- NBC is handing over its sizeable distribution and programming to the National Geographic Channel in Asia and most of Europe (except in German-speaking areas), the company announced April 20. The National Geographic Channel will continue to distribute some NBC programming throughout the two regions.

Asked how the changes will affect the handling of advertising sales, Tom Rogers, president of NBC Cable and Business Development, said the company "continues to figure out" what the best structure for handling sales is. He added that the sales staff is used to selling multiple products.

Starting July 1, the NBC Asia distribution platform, which reaches seven million homes, will convert its programming to the National Geographic Channel Asia, a 24-hour, seven days a week service. NBC Asia will maintain an office in Hong Kong for regional distribution and business development, but will reduce its staff by 75 employees. National Geographic Asia will be headquartered in Singapore. In Asia, the National Geographic Channel will carry up to four hours a day of NBC News material.

NBC Europe will now focus its efforts on Germany, where, together with a group of German TV producers and investors, it plans to continue distribution in German-speaking areas. NBC Europe currently reaches more than 25 million German-speaking homes. The NBC service there will retain popular shows from its current programming lineup, including the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Effective July 1, 1998, NBC Europe will convert its programming in 11 million homes to the National Geographic Channel. This distribution will include the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary and Israel. The National Geographic Channel in Europe will air CNBC and NBC News material in a six-hour morning block. NBC Europe will largely remain the same in other European markets, particularly in Southern Europe.

One of the main factors driving the deal was NBC's need for a greater volume of programs able to travel well across national cultures, said Mr. Rogers. "At NBC we have news, but we don't own programs like ER or Seinfeld. We have an inadequate amount of entertainment programming."

Natural history and science programs easily cross borders, supporters say. Rick Allen, president of National Geographic Ventures, said that the National Geographic Channel is the most requested channel on U.K. cable TV.

In December 1996, Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic Television and NBC formed a joint venture called National Geographic Channel, which is half-owned in Australia, the U.K. and Australia by News Corporation's U.K.-based BSkyB satellite channel. The new European expanded service will also be halfowned by BSkyB and the National Geographic Television/NBC venture. In Asia, the National Geographic Channel will be equally owned by NBC and National Geographic Television.

The broadening of the National Geographic Channel's distribution will help in its fight against global competitor Discovery Communications. In April 1997, BBC Worldwide and U.S.based Discovery Communications announced a joint venture to launch nature channels under the name Animal Planet Europe and Latin America.

Last December, NBC Europe's sister 24-hour business channel CNBC, merged with Dow Jones & Co.'s European Business News. CNBC also merged with Dow Jones' Asia Business News. The new global network is branded CNBC, a service of NBC and Dow Jones.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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