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July 21, 2003

John Ford Lands at Nat Geo, McGowan Launching a Shop

The eagles are landing.

Two high-flying executives last week announced their new, post-Discovery Networks gigs.

John Ford, a Discovery programming veteran who most recently served as president of new media for Discovery Networks U.S. until he departed in February, is joining the National Geographic Channel on Aug. 18 as EVP of programming.

Bill McGowan, EVP of advertising sales for Discovery Networks U.S., is leaving at the end of this year to launch his own shop, McGowan Communications LLC.

As president and CEO of his own independent company starting in January, one of McGowan's first lines of business will be representing DCI's paid programming to clients under the licensed name “Discovery Direct.” His sales operation will seek deals for paid programming such as infomercials or direct response.

“I am excited about continuing to drive an important segment of Discovery's sales effort on an independent basis,” McGowan said in a statement.

Ford most recently developed and launched Discovery HD Theater in his role as president of new media, responsible for all Discovery's interactive, Internet, high-definition and video-on-demand services.

His 13-year Discovery career included overseeing all content, programming and online services for Discovery's lineup of networks as president of its content group from February 2001 to August 2002. He also served as president of Discovery Health Channel and SVP and GM of The Learning Channel, now more widely known as TLC.

In his new position, based at National Geographic Channel headquarters in Washington, D.C., Ford's expertise is expected to boost NGC's programming to even greater heights.

“This network is really ready to take off,” Ford says. “It's got a very solid foundation right now. It's got some really strong programs, it's growing like crazy in distribution and it's moving from that category of emerging network to fully distributed network. And it needs a new strategy to go with that change. There is tremendous brand equity with National Geographic television and film and the society, plus tremendous expertise [here] in launching and managing very successful cable networks a la Fox News Channel and FX on the Fox side of the partnership. This is the perfect time to come on board.”

His first goal at the joint venture between National Geographic Television & Film and Fox Cable Networks is to tackle prime time. “We need to use more of the brand bandwidth that we have — the brandwidth, if you will — to draw in a wider, more diverse audience, and improve the ratings. It's been doing well, but we can do even better if we put the maximum programming and marketing resources together with really strong destinations for viewers at 8, 9 and 10 every night.”

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