Biography Channel Turns a New Page

The Biography Channel begins its original-programming era this week, and the network will kick it off with some coordinated marketing initiatives.

After four years of sustaining itself as a diginet repository for old episodes of A&E Network's Biography
and films about folks famous and infamous, Biography Channel plans to run a schedule that's 50 percent first-run programming by the end of 2003.

The initial entry, a Friday night "Star Central" primetime hour, premieres Dec. 6. At least three new series will premiere later in the month, followed by a docudrama program on monarchs in January.

It's all about fleshing out Biography Channel in both variety and contemporary appeal to subscribers, senior vice president and general manager Tom Heymann said. "We've started the process of defining this network as an appreciation of people's lives and their life stories," he explained. "There are a lot of formats to bring that appreciation closer to viewers."

Cheeky ads

The Star Treatment, focusing on the people who assist celebrities in some manner, will make up the first half of the Star Central hour. The last half hour will be Star Closeup, featuring movie and TV actors talking about their work and lifestyle.

Cross-channel avails running on Biography Channel affiliates all December long, as well as messages appearing on A&E and sister A&E Television Networks-owned services The History Channel and History Channel International, play off the celebrity emphasis with cheeky humor.

The attitude extends to an updated,
relaunching in lockstep with the new primetime hour. New features include episode guides, celebrity chat rooms and a quiz asking its users how much they know about their favorite stars.

"Possibly down the road, we may do a pampering contest," added John Hartinger, Biography Channel's marketing vice president. "Who wouldn't want to be treated like a star?"

Until then, Hartinger's marketing tactics will concentrate on building both brand awareness and recognition of digital cable as an original content originator. The network also will continue a series of interstitials from comedian and Primetime Glick
star Martin Short. Four brief segments, where Short imitates Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Bennett and Howdy Doody, are running now. Six more segments will be produced in 2003, most skewering pop culture icons.

Biography Channel will be in 30 million homes or beyond by the start of 2005. Network officials declined to provide a current subscriber or affiliate count.

The top marketing objective for 2003 is "to get consumers to find and ask for the channel itself, as a digital service," Hartinger said. "On top of an incredible programming heritage over famous people past and present, what we're building in a broader sense is a brand about every person's type of story."

'Passport' Coming

Elements of that broad direction will surface in the channel's other upcoming series debuts —Bio Passport, covering resorts worldwide and the famous guests who paid a visit; Bio Arts, featuring major figures from the performing arts and fine arts world in conversation and performance; and Bio Portraits, showcasing organizations and institutions dedicated to individuals.

Famous monarchs will be recreated in Kings & Queens, a 12-part series debuting Jan. 2. Selected episodes from that program will be previewed on The History Channel this month.