DirecTV curates Smithsonian

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Smithsonian Networks has inked a carriage agreement with DirecTV that marks the first for its new high-definition channel, which is set to launch this week.

Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution, is set to begin broadcasting its original programming on a new linear channel, dubbed Smithsonian Channel, on or around Wednesday. Programming will feature branded original content drawn from the assets of the Smithsonian Institution, including documentaries, short-subject explorations and others programs highlighting "America's historical, cultural and scientific heritage" with topics ranging from history to science to pop culture.

Smithsonian Networks GM Tom Hayden said the network is developing a series dubbed "Sound Revolutions" that will be hosted by Morgan Freeman and revolve around jazz, soul and blues music. It also is planning a documentary about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington timed to coincide with the wall's 25th anniversary.

Meanwhile, the network said the deal with DirecTV gives it a "major national presence" as its programming will now be available to 16.3 million customers nationwide. Smithsonian Channel will be located at Channel 267 on the satellite TV provider's HD Xtra Pack. Hayden said other carriage deals are in the works.

"We've been at this for nine months to a year, and we're in pretty advanced discussions with all of the top cable operators, satellite folks and telcos," he said. "This one just happens to be ready first."

While some of the VOD content will be in standard definition, the linear channel will showcase all high-def programming and directly compete primarily with National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel and History Channel, Hayden said.

Other programming includes the network's first original series, "Stories From the Vaults," featuring host Tom Cavanagh ("Ed") going into the vaults of the Smithsonian's museums to showcase artifacts visitors don't always get to see.

"The Smithsonian is the world's largest museum and research complex," Hayden said. "It's often referred to as 'America's attic,' and I guess we're an extension of that. We're trying to be America's storyteller."

Added Derek Chang, executive vp content strategy and development at DirecTV, "Our customers are looking for high-quality HD content, and we believe the Smithsonian Channel's programming will deliver that and more."
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