Smithsonian Channel To Make Its Debut, But Only on DirecTV

The Smithsonian's controversial cable television programming will debut Wednesday, but right now only those with a specific satellite dish will be able to see it.

Subscribers to DirecTV, one of two main satellite TV carriers, will have access to the 75 hours of programming from the Smithsonian Channel, produced in cooperation with Showtime Networks, the network will announce today.

Several groups objected to the contract because the Smithsonian signed over to Showtime semi-exclusive rights to produce films built around the national institution's resources.

Since the deal was made public 20 months ago, Smithsonian officials have defended it as a way to make the museums accessible to more people and as a new source of needed money for the museums.

Members of Congress, who control the 70 percent of the budget the Smithsonian receives from the federal government and who also oversee its operations, expressed doubt about the arrangement from the beginning. Both Republicans and Democrats voiced concern about independent filmmakers' access and that the shows would be available only to select viewers who could pay more.

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