DOCUMENTARY programme network The Discovery Channel is believed to be close to a deal with Wharf Cable, its only possible distributor in the territory. The general manager of The Discovery Channel Asia, Kevin-john McIntyre, would not detail the outstanding issues because talks were continuing but said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached 'soon'. Wharf declined to comment. Discovery features high-quality factual programming covering science and technology, nature, human adventure, cultures and history. It can be watched in Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Papua New Guinea and Taiwan, which accounts for most of the two million Asian homes reached. Under the regional expansion that Mr McIntyre promised in September when he formally opened the company's Asian headquarters, services will start in Thailand this week and New Zealand before the end of the year. Talks with Singaporean authorities are expected to bear fruit early next year. The channel is relayed to Asia via the Palapa B2P satellite but will switch to APStar 1, which has a bigger footprint, as soon as possible. The Discovery Channel reaches more than 60 countries and is available in 80 million households. This includes 62 million in the United States, where it was the fastest growing cable channel in the 1980s and is now the fourth largest. For the past three years, US subscribers have voted Discovery Channel the most valuable element of basic cable packages. It was also non-subscribers' most-desired package. Other markets served include Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Chris Moseley, the company's US-based senior vice-president for marketing and communications, said while in Hong Kong last week: 'We want to be market-driven and not product-driven, so we are working on a large collaborative study to examine the needs and desires of the Asian viewer. 'There is no future for us if we just roll out US programming and advertising into Asia. We know we need to individualise our programming for the different markets.' Mandarin subtitles are used for Taiwan and Cantonese will be used if Discovery becomes available in Hong Kong. 'We believe we have identified the core brand attributes but will ask networks in our corporate family to come up with localised advertising campaigns,' Ms Moseley said. The channel's three core strengths were its 'dual viewing experience', a potent combination of entertainment and education; its ability to 'bring the world into your home'; and its 'visually arresting photography', such as when it took cameras inside a beehive. 'In one study group, a very burly truck driver was so impressed with that beehive film he said he actually felt like he was a bee - no one argued,' Ms Moseley said. In the US, Discovery showed how powerful non-fiction programming was in building audiences. 'Now, we must make the same case here in Asia,' Ms Moseley said. A central element of Discovery's pitch to regional stations has been education. In the US, the company's natural history programming has been officially approved by the Californian educational authorities and included as part of the schools' curriculum. The National Education Association, which represents two million teachers, has also endorsed programmes that focused on whales, insects and dinosaurs. Interactive compact disc read-only memory discs, CD-ROMs, and laser discs have been produced and widely marketed in the US, with supporting materials for use in schools. On-line possibilities are being examined. Discovery sources its programming both from the established industry giants Beyond International, the BBC and ITEL, and from independent producers. More recently, it began commissioning its own programmes, such as the first major documentary about Beijing's Forbidden City for decades.