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It initially provided documentary television programming focused primarily on popular science, technology, and history, but by the 2010s had expanded into reality television and pseudo-scientific entertainment. Programming on the flagship Discovery Channel in the U.S. is primarily focused on reality television series, such as speculative investigation (with shows such as MythBusters, Unsolved History, and Best Evidence), automobiles, and occupations (such as Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch); it also features documentaries specifically aimed at families and younger audiences.
A popular annual feature on the channel is Shark Week, which airs on Discovery during the summer months. Despite its popularity and success, the program has garnered criticism, especially from the scientific community, for being scientifically inaccurate.
As of January 2016, Discovery Channel is available to approximately 94,456,000 pay television households in the United States.
Discovery Channel India, Animal Planet India, Discovery Science India, Discovery Turbo India, TLC India, Discovery Kids India, Investigation Discovery India
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John Hendricks founded the channel and its parent company, Cable Educational Network Inc., in 1982. Several investors (including the BBC, Allen & Company and Venture America) raised $5 million in start-up capital to launch the network.
The Discovery Channel began broadcasting on June 17, 1985. It was initially available to 156,000 households and broadcast for 12 hours each day between 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. About 75 percent of its program content had never been broadcast on U.S. television before. In its early years, the channel's focus centered on educational programming in the form of cultural and wildlife documentaries, and science and historical specials. It also broadcast some Soviet programming during this time, including the news program Vremya. In 1988, the channel premiered the nightly program World Monitor (produced by The Christian Science Monitor). In 1988, The Discovery Channel debuted an annual programming stunt called Shark Week, the week-long event eventually gained in popularity starting in the 1990s and continues to be shown each summer on the channel to this day. By 1990, the channel was available in over 50 million households.
The channel began to shift its focus in the early 2000s to attract a broader audience, by incorporating more reality-based series focusing on automotive, occupations, and speculative investigation series; though the refocused programming strategy proved popular, Discovery Channel's ratings began to decline by the middle of the decade. The drop in viewership was widely attributed to an over-reliance on a few hit series, such as Monster Garage and American Chopper. Some critics said such shows strayed from Discovery's intention of providing more educationally based shows aimed at helping viewers learn about the world around them. In 2005, Discovery changed its programming focus to include more popular science and historical themes. The network's ratings eventually recovered in 2006.
On January 4, 2006, Discovery Communications announced anchor Ted Koppel, executive producer Tom Bettag and eight other former staff members from the ABC newsmagazine Nightline were joining Discovery Channel. The network was nominated for seven Primetime Emmy Awards that year for shows including The Flight that Fought Back (a documentary about the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001) and Deadliest Catch (a reality series about a group of seafood fishermen).
In 2007, Discovery Channel's top series included the Emmy Award- and Peabody Award-winning Planet Earth, Dirty Jobs, MythBusters, and Deadliest Catch. Discovery Channel's 2008 lineup included Fight Quest and Smash Lab.
On September 1, 2010, 43-year-old James Jay Lee entered the Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, armed with a handgun. Lee fired at least one shot and held several employees hostage; he was later shot dead by police. Lee had published criticisms of the network at Savetheplanetprotest.com.
In December 2015, Discovery Communications launched its TV Everywhere service, Discovery Go, which features live and video-on-demand content from Discovery Channel and eight of its sister networks.