After a two-and-a-half-year stint as president of National Geographic Channels U.S., Howard Owens is striking out on his own.
The former William Morris agent and Reveille co-founder on Monday revealed his decision to leave Nat Geo, saying that while his tenure as programming chief was “an incredible experience…both personally and professionally,” it was time for him to embark on his “next adventure.”
Owens was instrumental in launching the Nat Geo original series Brain Games and Wicked Tuna, as well as the scripted programs Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and the upcoming Killing Jesus. (All three specials were based on best-selling books by Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly.)
He joined Nat Geo in late 2011, replacing longtime network boss Steve Schiffman.
In a note to staffers, NGC U.S. CEO David Lyle announced that Owens would be moving on, or as he characterized it, “flying out the window of National Geographic and into the free world of independent production.”
Lyle was effusive in his praise for Owens. “As a senior TV executive, I’m supposed to say everybody is replaceable, but in Howard’s case I say without a shadow of a doubt, we couldn’t have done it without him.”
A replacement has not been identified.
While high-profile undertakings like the Killing series and SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden gave Nat Geo a temporary ratings boost, the network’s biggest growth came in 2012. Per Nielsen, Nat Geo finished out the year before last up 22 percent in its target demo (adults 25-54), only to dip 2 percent in 2013.
“National Geographic Channels have some of the brightest minds in the television business, and I’m proud of the work we have accomplished together—specifically in defining the National Geographic Channels as a destination for innovative, original and brand-defining creativity,” Owens said, by way of signing off.