Discovery Communications, Inc.
John S. Hendricks, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, Inc., made a fortune in the cable TV business, taking about 10 years to turn his TV programming company into a $700 million a year business.
Though not a television professional when he came into the business, Hendricks succeeded by knowing how to recruit the right people in the right areas: marketing, programming and public relations. His Discovery Channel eventually became a staple of cable systems throughout the country. He continually sought new opportunities for his company, exploring technological advancements, like digital cable TV and cyberspace.
Hendricks was born in West Virginia in 1952. He earned a bachelor's degree in history, graduating magna cum laude in 1973, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. John Hendricks and his wife, Maureen, have two children.
Hendricks has served on the following boards: National Academy of Cable Programming, National Cable Television Association, Omniview Corp., International Television and Radio Foundation, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, James Madison Council, Library of Congress, National Council, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Lowell Observatory, National Cable Television Center and Museum, Foundation for Minority Interests in Media, Inc., and Excalibur Technologies.
Hendricks, a strong supporter of education and an advocate of the First Amendment, became the first corporate leader to receive the National Education Association's Friend of Education award for "innovations in education and technology and greatly expanding educational opportunity for America's schoolchildren." In the past, the award was given to national figures like President Lyndon Johnson and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1996, he received the Media Institute's Freedom of Speech Award for "promoting the vitality and independence of American media and communications."
Hendricks has addressed the National Press Club, has been featured in Business Week magazine, and has made appearances on television programs, such as the CBS Evening News, CNN's Crossfire, Larry King Live!, and PBS' Technopolitics.
Before launching The Discovery Channel, Hendricks was not unfamiliar with the broadcasting and communications fields. He had served as president of the American Association of University Consultants, which he founded. As a private consulting organization, the AAUC is involved in television distribution and marketing of educational programs and services. Hendricks amassed a large client list during his tenure, including colleges, universities, and educational film distributors.
Along with his AAUC duties between 1974 and 1980, Hendricks served as director of corporate relations for the University of Maryland. Prior to that, from 1973 to 1974, he served as director of community and governmental relations for the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
When Hendricks started Discovery in 1982, he invested $20,000 of his own money for the initial financing provided by an investment bank and a New York insurance company. To develop the new cable service, he incorporated his company, then called the Cable Educational Network Inc. The Discovery Channel first aired on June 17.
In 1986, Hendricks got further assistance when cable operators Telecommunications, Inc., Cox Cable Communications, and Newhouse Broadcasting invested in his company. From there, Discovery Channel became Discovery Communications, Inc. (DCI) and grew to include overseas, multimedia and online ventures. DCI, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, also expanded into retailing when Hendricks purchased a Texas-based chain of stores called the Discovery Stores and The Nature Company.
DCI has since become one of the largest cable television networks in the world. By the late 1990s, it was serving over 114 million subscribers in 145 countries across the globe. It also branched out into other programming areas with The Learning Channel and the Animal Planet Channel.
In 1996, Hendricks announced that Discovery was joining forces with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to spend more than $500 million to produce new programming and to begin satellite and cable channels worldwide, including a U.S. channel that would feature drama and performing arts programming produced by the BBC.
In 1997, Discovery premiered its first feature film, The Leopard Son, a documentary about a leopard cub living in the Serengeti. That same year, DCI bought the Travel Channel and was in the process of developing even more new networks.
Social and Economic Impact
As the founder of Discovery Channel, Hendricks created America's first cable network designed to provide world-class documentary programming in the areas of nature, science and technology, history, human adventure and world exploration. Hendricks' expressed objective is to fulfill a social responsibility to enrich the culture.
The growth of Discovery Communications, Inc. has been rapid and vast. In 1985, it started out with a revenue of $200,000 for the entire year. In 1998, revenue increased to $700 million. Hendricks accomplished this by recognizing technological possibilities and taking full advantage of opportunities. The company went international in 1989 and started Discovery Europe. In the late 1990s, Hendricks took his company into the multimedia and online areas and looked toward the digital spectrum as the next expansion frontier.
When Hendricks bought The Learning Channel in 1991, the acquisition complemented his Discovery Channel, as it offered viewers of all ages education in an entertaining format. The Learning Channel quickly became one of the fastest growing midsize networks in North America, reaching over 60 million subscribers in the United States and over 5 million subscribers in Canada by the end of the 1990s.
Now more than just a television cable channel, Discovery takes advantage of the increasing interactivity of communications and distribution vehicles in order to reach larger audiences. DCI has the capability of holding dialogues with viewers in living rooms, corporate board-rooms, and classrooms throughout the world. Hendricks is particularly concerned with education. His company's Discovery Channel School teams with companies to provide content, connectivity, and training resources for educators.
The list of assets Hendricks has at his disposal to accomplish his mission is impressive. DCI is a privately held, diversified media company that operates several distinct business units. These include Discovery Networks U.S., consisting of Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Animal Planet, and The Travel Channel as well as the package of Discovery digital services, including Discovery Science Network, Discovery Travel & Living Network, and Discovery Civilization: The History and Geography Channel.
The company also includes Discovery Networks International, with its 19 different feeds of 15 separate Discovery networks transmitted worldwide in 18 languages; Discovery Enterprises Worldwide, consisting of Discovery Channel Multimedia, Discovery Channel Online, Discovery Channel Video, Discovery Channel Publishing and Discovery Channel Education; Discovery Retail, consisting of 110 stores of The Nature Company, 18 Discovery Channel Stores and three Scientific Revolution stores; and Discovery Channel Pictures, the theatrical and large-format film division of DCI; and a wholly owned subsidiary, Your Choice TV.
Chronology: John Hendricks
1973: Graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
1973: Served as director of community and governmental relations, University of Alabama for two years.
1974: Served as director of corporate relations, University of Maryland for six years.
1982: Started the Discovery Channel.
1986: Secured investments from cable operators.
1989: Discovery launched Discovery Europe.
1991: Purchased the Learning Channel.
1997: Discovery bought the Travel Channel.
1998: Discovery's revenues reached $700 million.
Hendricks envisioned a long list of non-fiction specialty programming for when cable expands into the digital format. Discovery has the technological advantages to support the move into digital broadcasting. DCI channels can share programming content, which would keep costs down. Discovery also benefits from its large investors, Liberty Media and Cox Communications
Sources of Information
Contact at: Discovery Communications, Inc.
7700 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
Business Phone: (301)986-0444
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"At Heart, Discovery CEO Still an Entrepreneur." Washington Business Journal, 22 December 1995.
"Cable Pioneer Discovers Value of Putting Substance Over Style." Washington Times, 23 December 1996.
Cheshire, Mark. "Travel Channel Getting New Owner." Daily Record, 11 September 1997.
"Discovery's Age of Exploration." Business Week, 7 October 1994.
"Excalibur Technologies Announces Election of John S. Hendricks to Board of Directors." Available from http://www.excalib.com/news/excapress/hendricks.html.
Hendricks, John S. "Responsibility: It's the Right Thing to Do." Broadcasting and Cable, 20 October 1997.
"John S. Hendricks." Available from http://www.gsb.georgetown.edu/dept/undergra/programs/pastdis.htm.
"John S. Hendricks." Available from http://www.ceoforum.org/bios/hendricks.html.
"Sen. Patrick Leahy and Discovery's John S. Hendricks." Available from http://www.mediainst.org/banquet.htm.
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