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Two Discovery Nets Go to the Movies

Animal Planet next year will become the second Discovery Communications Inc. cable network to take its brand to the silver screen.

Following in Discovery Channel's paw prints, Animal Planet will release aCrocodile Hunterfeature as its first theatrical film in summer 2001, said Animal Planet executive vice president and general manager Clark Bunting.

"If you're just a delivery system today, you're in trouble," Bunting said. "You have to resonate beyond [the channel]."

Animal Planet, which has already moved its brand into toy stores, is about to branch out into theme parks, as well.

(Speaking of theatrical films, Animal Planet recently acquired the rights toGorillas in theMist. Scheduled for primetime on Nov. 10, the TV premiere will be coupled with a half-hour update on the African mountain gorilla.)

The fastest-growing cable network in terms of distribution, Animal Planet has also found considerable success "outside the cable box," Discovery Networks U.S. president Johnathan Rodgers said. Its spin-offs range fromCrocodile Huntertoys sold in Animal Planet-branded departments at Toys 'R' Us Inc. stores to Universal Studios theme-park attractions due to open in spring 2001.

Universal and DCI have inked a long-term partnership that will lead to "Animal Planet Live" attractions at Universal's Hollywood and Orlando, Fla., parks. Attractions will be "inspired by our franchise series likeEmergency Vets,Wild on the Set[and]CrocodileHunter," said Bunting.

The network also is talking with an unnamed broadcaster about a spin-off package of specials similar to 1997'sDiscovery's Animal Planet Presents, which aired on CBS.

DCI has periodically taken its wildlife fare to the silver screen with theatrical releases likeThe Leopard SonandAfrican Elephant Kingdom.

The former title, released theatrically by Discovery Pictures in 1996, ran on Discovery Channel in the spring of 1998. But plans for the latter big-screen feature are on hold since, as an Imax production, it's made for a huge screen.

"It's not a perfect match for TV," which is why Imax movies rarely appear on TV or cable, he said. "We're still trying to figure that out."

Imax Corp. is still rolling outElephant, which Discovery released in the spring of 1998. So far, about 20 U.S. Imax-equipped outlets have aired the film.

A year later, Discovery released its second Imax feature,Wildfire: Feel theHeat.Each runs 40 minutes.

Discovery Pictures' Web site offers video and behind-the-scenes information about both films and an "especially for teachers" area onWildfire.

Now in the pipeline: a theatrical feature on the human body, Bunting said.

In yet another off-channel venture, Discovery Channel plans to promote its second museum road show, "Prehistoric Worlds and Backyard Discoveries," said DCI senior vice president of exhibits and events Andrew Holtzman. That effort will start in March and tie in to the primetime specialLand of theMammoths.

DCI's first traveling exhibit, "The Lost Spacecraft: Liberty Bell 7 Recovered," will have hit 12 markets by the time it ends its run in 2003.