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Whatever happened to... NBC Super Channel?

SPECIAL FEATURE  It was once one of the pioneers of pan-European broadcasting, bringing audiences across the continent a mix of US and European shows, with news from NBC and ITN, business from CNBC, late night entertainment from Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien and gave European viewers a chance to watch NBC's flagship morning show "Today" live...

This month, it's been announced that what remains of the once great channel will be turned into a free-to-air version of the Disney Channel in Germany, so a516digital takes the opportunity to look back at the channel's history with the help of some great YouTube material and find out... whatever happened to NBC Super Channel?

Super Channel  (1987)
NBC Super Channel (1993)
NBC Europe  (1996)               split      CNBC Europe
NBC Europe (ends 30/06/1998 outside of Germany)
Das Vierte (2005)
Disney Channel Germany (2014)

A history
The channel launched in 1987 as "Super Channel", and was originally owned by all but one of the ITV companies of the time. From the launch right into the NBC Europe era, LWT's Trish Bertram was one of the main voices of the channel, giving the channel a familiar sound.

For a while, the channel carried BBC content, including a European weather forecast. ITN supplied World News for the channel - with John Suchet being one of the earliest presenters of the programme. The channel bombed and in time, the ITV companies sold the channel to the the Marcucci family, owners of  the first music channel in Italy, with a minority stake being held by Richard Branson's Virgin plc, and the programming changed from British to pan-European.

The NBC era
Financial troubles dogged the channel, and 1993, NBC took over the channel and rebranded it "NBC Super Channel". Previous low-profile afternoon programmes were replaced by simulcasts of CNBC's Money Wheel from New York and, for a time, the channel showed a live simulcast of NBC's Today show, with opt-outs for European weather. Late night schedules were filled by The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O'Brien, sandwiched between the ITN World News at 22:00 CET (Central European Time) and NBC Nightly News at 00:30. The television arm of Financial Times provided daily business programmes, presented by Melinda Wittstock.

Primetime schedules saw the introduction of NBC's current affairs programme Dateline NBC and outdoor adventure factual show Ushuaia.

The simulcast of NBC's Today programme was gradually dropped, apparently due to UK rules on product placement and sponsorship. Additionally, the time of the programme (1pm -3pm CET/12 noon-2pm UK) increasingly clashed with CNBC programming, which was expanding. In 1995, NBC Super Channel began to increase its daytime business programming with the introduction of the European Money Wheel - a co-production between CNBC and Financial Times TV. Tanya Beckett - now the face of BBC World News show Business Edition co-presented the four hour show with Michiel Bicker-Caarten. It aired between 10:00-14:00 CET and was followed by CNBC US programmes Squawk Box and Money Wheel, completely squeezing Today from the schedule. During 1995 and 1996, the previous day's Today was shown at 07:00 CET, repackaged as an "international edition", with ITN World News and FT Business bulletins inserted.

Through a co-operation with Germany's ZDF, the channel showed popular German current affairs show Frontal, with English subtitles in 1995.

The absence of carriage on the Astra satellite system alongside Sky analogue meant that the channel was for many years restricted to cable viewers in the UK, except for satellite enthusiasts who had a set-up for Eutelsat. This changed in the mid-90s, when the channel began to transmit on both Astra and Eutelsat and programme trailers began to show both UK and CET timezones.

Mid 90s heyday
NBC Europe 1996. Caution: website URL now points to gambling site.
1996 saw further changes. The schedule was beefed up, and the channel entered a brief heyday with a rich mix of programming from Europe and the USA.

From YouTube: NBC trailers from 1996. (See YouTube notes below)

The channel dropped the "Super Channel" part of the name, becoming NBC Europe. And it launched its famous slogan: "NBC: Where the Stars Come Out at Night". ITN's evening news was eventually dropped, with the channel living up to its slogan, bringing viewers a star-studded Tonight Show at 22:00 CET, Late Night with Conan O'Brien at 23:00 CET and Later... at 00:00 CET ahead of the NBC Nightly News at 00:30 CET.

Selina Scott, initially a presenter of ITN World News, launched a new weeknightly talk show at 19:00 CET. At the weekends, NBC briefly brought viewers US drama in the form of Profiler, airing Saturdays 21:00 CET. Through its teletext service, NBC offered subtitling in a number of European languages including Dutch and German.

Fiona Armstrong, known in the UK for presenting news bulletins on ITV and later BBC, appeared on the channel presenting Executive Lifestyles.

Promotional trailer for NBC Europe in 1997. From YouTube. (See YouTube notes below)

By 1997, the channel's Astra feed was devoted to extended CNBC programmes. CNBC Europe had officially begun the year before, taking over from the original Financial Times TV service but as a programme strand on NBC Europe, initially providing an extra four hours of business programming in the evening for Astra satellite viewers.

Meanwhile, NBC Europe reduced its business programming, simulcasting CNBC Europe's morning schedule only. Afternoon schedules were cleared to bring Home and Garden TV and MSNBC to European screens.

During its final months on air NBC Europe launched a nightly National Geographic documentary slot. By June 1998 it was all over for the channel: trailers were advising viewers that the channel would in most areas be replaced by a full time National Geographic Channel and that NBC Europe would continue in Germany, Austria and Switzerland only. Viewers were invited to tune to CNBC Europe to continue watching The Tonight Show and NBC Nightly News.

The cost of operating a free-to-air Europe-wide entertainment channel was prohibitive, and NBC was better off selling broadcast rights to broadcasters in each country than trying to show a programme on its own channel across the continent. CNBC was better placed to reach the executive TV viewer in Europe, a type of viewer more likely to want to watch a channel in the English language.

For viewers in the UK, that was the end of NBC Europe. So what did happen next?

The German era
The channel lived on... in Germany, where new owner DFA had ambitions of creating a new network for computer enthusiasts... Between Wednesday 1st July and 30th November, the channel consisted of a morning simulcast of CNBC followed by old NBC Europe documentaries in a continuous, repetitive loop in the afternoon and early evening with no discernible schedule. The Tonight Show looped from late evening. Presentation was poor, with old NBC Europe trailers edited to become generic adverts without time references.

QVC Germany later appeared between 12noon and 3pm, at a time when the shopping channel wasn't available in all areas of the country on cable. By the end of November, NBC Europe was ready to resume something like normal programming, from its new base in Dusseldorf.

On the 30th November at 3pm, new German-language computer show GIGA launched. The show initially aired from 3pm to 8pm Monday-Friday. English programmes including Dateline and The Tonight Show followed later in the evening.

A YouTube video with a repeat showing of the first GIGA show on NBC Europe. "From today and forever, this is GIGA".... Well not forever: GIGA ended in 2009.
(See YouTube notes below)

In 2004, NBC Universal took over DFA and consequently regained full control of NBC Europe. On September 29, 2005, NBC Europe was re-named Das Vierte.

Das Vierte
Das Vierte continued to show CNBC in the mornings to meet German cable licence requirements. In 2008, NBC Universal sold Das Vierte to Russian Dmitry Lesnevsky who planned to turn the channel into a general entertainment channel. In 2012, his company sold the channel to Disney. On the 17th April 2013, it was announced that what was once one of Europe's biggest TV stations would become a free-to-air version of the Disney Channel from the beginning of 2014.

NBC, meanwhile has achieved greater success in operating pay TV entertainment channels in different countries, where it can make more money from subscriptions and can tailor its schedule based on broadcast rights for each country it transmits in.

ITN branched out further into pan-European broadcasting in 1997 when it bought a  49% stake in Euronews. ITN's main evening news on NBC Europe had already been axed by this time, with the Tonight Show being moved to 22:00 CET. In 2003, ITN withdrew from pan-European television.

CNBC Europe retains elements of the old NBC Europe right to this day - namely sports programmes on weekend afternoons and US late night entertainment on weekend evenings, plus the simulcast of NBC Nightly News.

The short-lived BBC content on the original Super Channel continued and expanded on BBC TV Europe from 1989, later BBC World Service TV, then from 1995 on BBC World and BBC Prime - now known as BBC World News and BBC Entertainment, with further channel spin-offs in parts of Europe, including BBC Lifestyle and BBC Knowledge (not to be confused with the short-lived UK channel of the same name that broadcast around the turn of the century).

YouTube notes:
YouTube clips subject to YouTube terms and conditions, subject to availability. Credits to the respective copyright holders. a516digital is not associated with the uploaders of the content on YouTube. Clips are not hosted on a516digital.


  1. Comment from James Robinson, via email to a516digital:

    One thing I remember about the old "Super channel" was "On The Air", a "Radio show on TV" with pop videos and a single screen graphic with text during speech. One of the songs regularly played was "River Of Dreams" by Billy Joel - to the more obscure Kerry Shaw's "Could This Be Love" - which only reached no 90 in the charts for one week in September 1993.

    I cannot remember the name of the presenter of "On The Air" but it did play some lesser known records which have now all but long been forgotten.

    Virgin's involvement I believe also resulted in "The Super Station" - a radio spin off which operated from 1 October 1988 to 6 November 1990 only - operating in ILR station studios for an overnight sustaining service - from London, Guildford and Manchester. It provided overnight programmes from 2200-0600 originally, then extended to 1900-0600. The first night's output was

    2200 Ruby Wax
    2300 Johnny Walker
    0100 Bob Harris
    0300 Diana Luke
    0600 closedown

    Johnathan Ross also did some output, plus Nicky Horne at weekends.

    Phil Kennedy also had a regular nightly show after Diana Luke left. Before he left, he moved to Johnny Walker's old slot with features such as "Under The Bedclothes Club" and "Chocolaholics Corner".

    Originally, the station did not take any IRN feed and played music at the top of the hour. This meant that the stations taking it had someone in the studio playing out the adverts and going to the news - but only until 2am each night. No adverts or news were heard on some stations between 2 and 6 am, whereas some had adverts all night.

    When The Super Station - also known as "Radio Radio" started taking news, local opt-outs stopped and the station had no adverts at all.

    The final presenter on the station, between 0300-0600 on Saturday 6 November 1990 was former Radio Luxembourg presenter Tony Adams. The station was heard only on two stations that night - the host station at the time - Piccadilly Radio in Manchester - and Moray Firth Radio in Inverness. The service went into administration on 30 October 1990 giving stations tking it a week to find a replacement overnight service - hence why it did not finish straight away.

    It operated on the 7.74 and 7.92 Mhz subcarrier of Super Channel on 13 East - then known as ECS 2. It was also used to carry the Network Chart on a Sunday afternoons for a while, after the arrangement with LBC ended. The first two weeks of the station were carried via landline to each station as the satellite feed had not been set up until 18 October 1988.

    I wonder who else remembers this station! :)

    James Robinson, Wirral


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