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A&E to Draft Military History Channel

Is cable ready for another military network?

The answer will come soon enough, as A&E Television Networks has hatched plans to add Military History Channel to its lineup this spring.

The network will soft-launch Jan. 5 with a 20-hour “open preview” of programming that affiliates can take from the satellite, according to History Channel general manager Dan Davids.

Only last month, Discovery Communications Inc. said it would rename its Discovery Wings Channel as Military Channel. That change takes place Jan. 10.

For A&E Networks, the concept first peeked out of the foxhole last March, when History Channel International added a two-hour “Military History Channel” block two nights per week.

“The next planned step was to launch a full-fledged channel in 2005, which we are doing,” Davids said.

A&E Networks is positioning its sixth domestic network as a digital-basic service, although Davids said it could be offered on a digital tier.

He wouldn’t say if the network would be offered as a package deal with History. “We’re realistic,” he said. “In this day and age, wherever you can get distribution, you’ll be happy to get it.”

History will continue to air military-oriented programming. But Davids -- who said A&E Network first featured military programming in the mid 1980s -- added that there has been substantial interest from viewers for a dedicated military channel.

The new network will initially feature programming that has already aired on History, but Davids said it eventually hopes to feature original programming.

History will also look to develop a video-on-demand offering from the channel.

Military History Channel will also battle somewhat with the U.S. government-owned Pentagon Channel.

For more on Military History Channel, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page one of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.