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BBC America Bulks Up, Moves Up

Cable network BBC America is doubling its programming budget, adding a new general manager and relocating from Bethesda, Md., to the "Big Apple" in 2005, president and CEO Bill Hilary said Wednesday.

Hilary came to the network in September after exiting the executive VP/general manager post at Comedy Central in June.

The network will use that expanded programming budget to 1) create comedies and dramas for the channel and later distribution to the UK; 2) co-produce more shows with the BBC (up to 12 this year, compared to four last year); and 3) acquire shows from the UK. There are no plans to acquire U.S. off-nets, though, says Hilary.

The moves are meant to resuscitate BBC America, whose lagging ratings Hilary blames on over-programming reality shows like home makeover program Changing Rooms. In 2004, the network's prime time ratings were down 29 percent in its target  25-54 demo from the year before.

As part of a senior management restructuring, Hilary's former Comedy Central colleague Kathryn Mitchell will join the network as general manager Jan. 31. Mitchell most recently served as SVP programming for Comedy Central.

In addition, Jo Petherbridge, who has served in a number of key roles at BBC America, has been named SVP, corporate communications, online and strategy.

The BBC America channel, currently available in 41.5 million homes, is a co-venture with Discovery Communications.

The move to New York, which will take place over several months beginning in June 2005, will allow the network to reside in BBC Worldwide Americas headquarters and be in the same city as Discovery's ad sales team.