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Discovery exec sees $5B upfront

Cable will surpass broadcasting in upfront spending by 2005. That's Bill McGowan talking, and, when he talks, the media business tends to listen. McGowan, executive vice president of advertising sales for Discovery Networks, predicts this year's upfront cable spending will reach $5 billion, a whopping $1.2 billion increase over last year.

One year ago, he said upfront spending would increase by a cool $1 billion. Two years ago, he pegged it at $500 million.

If upfront cable spending grows at 22% annually, it will reach $13.5 billion by 2005, he said. By contrast, if upfront broadcast spending continues to grow at its current rate of about 10%, it will reach $12.9 billion in 2005.

At this year's upfront presentation, Discovery is offering 30 TV/Internet/ retail ad packages for shows or events such as Shark Week 2000. Discovery will glamorize the Internet part of the offer by sinking $500 million into over the next three years and pushing the site some 600 times daily on the Discovery networks.

Highlights of new program offerings for the upcoming season:

2001: A Discovery Space Journey, a quarterly franchise on Discovery Channel beginning with Inside the Space Station, scheduled as a "Watch With the World" (shown worldwide) event for the fourth quarter. Also on the mothership channel, the freeze-dried behemoth returns in first quarter 2001. The Mammoth Revealed will pick up where Raising the Mammoth left off, with scientists probing the proboscised one.

Several specials and three series will be added to Discovery's Animal Planet, the fastest-growing network in cable distribution. In the channel's daredevil-animal-expert series tradition, Shark Gordon follows the exploits of a shark expert off the coast of New Zealand. Parklife: Africa documents the world of rangers in South Africa' s Krueger National Park. Both series start in the fourth quarter. Thoroughbred, about raising the spirited beasts, begins second quarter 2001.

Specials dominate TLC's new offerings, including a three-part miniseries titled Unwrapped: The Mysterious World of Mummies, to appear in the fourth quarter. In first quarter 2001, TLC will go retro with The '70s: Bell Bottoms to Boogie Shoes.

Travel Channel, the third-fastest-growing channel in cable distribution, is pulling a Sci-Fi by running its most successful franchises back-to-back on a given night instead of stripping them across the week. Hidden Worlds will air Mondays and Tuesdays, World' s Best on Wednesdays, Amazing Destinations on Thursdays and Fun and Sun on Fridays.

New series appearing within those franchises include Girl Meets Hawaii, featuring Samantha Brown with arguably the best job in the industry; Global Treks, featuring people inclined to walk across continents; and Journey to the Ends of the Earth, which follows the odysseys of early travelers, such as Noah, of ark fame.

Discovery's BBC America rings in its third year stateside with a Friday-night comedy slate gleaned from the best of the BBC's own $2 billion programming budget. New programming on Discovery Health Channel will start rolling out at the end of the year, when distribution will approach 20 million.