Smithsonian Channel Signs First Carriage Deal

After a rocky path of fits and starts,

Showtime’s high-definition Smithsonian Channel

signed its first carriage agreement, gaining distribution on satellite carrier


beginning Wednesday.

The product of Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture between the pay cable network and the D.C. institution, the linear network of cultural and historical fare will be carried on channel 267 on DirecTV’s HD Xtra Pack, which reaches about 16 million U.S. customers. The channel will launch with about 75 hours of programming, with the goal of building to 100 by the end of the year and doubling that by August 2008.

Showtime hoped to announce carriage deals earlier in the summer, but it has had difficulty convincing operators to sign on.

There are two reasons for that, said Smithsonian Networks general manager Tom Hayden. First, Showtime initially envisioned the joint venture as a video-on-demand standard-definition offering, but it took time to go back and retool it as an HD linear feed, when operators expressed more interest in getting the programming that way.

Then, simultaneously, several other linear cable providers began offering HD simulcast feeds of their standard channels to operators and satellite companies free-of-charge. That made Smithsonian’s product, which distributors have to pay for, a less immediate priority for them as they figured out their HD strategy and bolstered new HD tiers with free product first.

"We have been so well-received with everybody as far as the Smithsonian brand," Hayden said. "It’s just been a matter of how [distributors] bide their time as they determine their strategy and get through the free networks first, so we just had to wait in line."

DirecTV was a natural first partner, as the satellite company has said that it wants to have launched 100-150 HD channels by the end of the year. The company will add Smithsonian’s VOD product when it launches its own version of on-demand programming at the end of the year.