The Smithsonian Channel is an American pay television channel that offers video content inspired by the Smithsonian Institution's museums, research facilities and magazines. It is operated by Smithsonian Networks (SNI/SI Networks L.L.C.), a joint venture between CBS Corporation's Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution.
The channel features original non-fiction programming that covers a wide range of historical, scientific and cultural subjects. As of February 2015, approximately 33.6 million American households (28.9% of those with television) receive Smithsonian Channel. It is also available as a video on demand service, depending on the service provider, and in various Internet streaming and download formats.
The channel was launched as Smithsonian On Demand in 2006, and became Smithsonian Channel in 2007. Smithsonian Channel Plus, a US$5 monthly subscription also offering access to the channel's past content library, and incorporating the former Smithsonian Earth streaming service, was launched in 2018. It is available on several device platforms, and via the web.
The Smithsonian Channel features a wide array of programming covering science, nature, culture, history, air and spacecraft, and documentaries. They create everything from long-running series to one-off, in depth specials.
- Aerial America showcases each of the 50 states from the air, with special episodes devoted to small towns, the wilderness, etc. Narrated by Jim Conrad. Related shows are Sky View, featuring areas in western Europe; Aerial Ireland; Aerial New Zealand; Aerial Africa; Aerial Britain; and Aerial Cities, featuring selected American cities.
- Soul Revolution hosted by Morgan Freeman premiered November 16, 2008.
- Season two of Stories from the Vaults starring Tom Cavanagh premiered July 12, 2009.
- Mystery of the Hope Diamond – On August 19, 2009, the Smithsonian Institution announced that the Hope Diamond was to get a temporary new setting to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Harry Winston's donation of the gem stone to the National Museum of Natural History. Starting in September, the 45.52-carat (9.104 g) diamond would be exhibited as a stand-alone gem with no setting. From August 19, 2009 through September 7, 2009, the public was invited to vote online for their favorite Harry Winston designed setting, at SmithsonianChannel.com/hope. The winning setting would be announced this fall and the gem would be shown in the setting starting in May, along with a Smithsonian Networks documentary.
- Soul of a People: Writing America's Story – A National Endowment for the Humanities-funded documentary about the Federal Writers' Project featuring interviews with notable project alumni Studs Terkel, Stetson Kennedy, and American historian Douglas Brinkley. Premiered September 6, 2009.
- MLK: The Assassination Tapes produced by 1895 FILMS for Smithsonian Channel premiered on February 12, 2012 and received a Peabody Award. The winner's citation for the Peabody Award describes the documentary as "[p]ainstakingly configured from rare footage collected at the University of Memphis in 1968...leading up to the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and its aftermath."
- Terror in the Skies examines problems in commercial airline flights,
- Air Warriors is a series covering the F-15 Eagle, the V-22 Osprey, and the AH-64 Apache and the stories of the dedicated pilots and teams who fly and maintain these ultimate air warriors. It premiered on November 9, 2014.
- The Real Story goes behind the scenes of some of Hollywood's biggest movies and displays true stories that inspired some of Hollywood's most famous blockbusters. (Also known as The True Story in the United Kingdom.)
Smithsonian Channel's programming library is currently distributed by Trifecta Entertainment & Media.
Originally only offered in high definition, the Smithsonian Channel HD began airing on DirecTV's new HD lineup on September 26, 2007. Dish Network had originally added the HD channel on May 12, 2008, until February 1, 2009, when Dish dropped it. Then on December 11, 2015, Dish began to offer the channel again. In 2010, Smithsonian Networks entered into an agreement with Comcast for broadcast of the channel until 2020.
Smithsonian Networks is also available on Charter Communications in high definition and standard definition and on Verizon FiOS, Mediacom, and CenturyLink's Prism as part of their Premium and Preferred packages.
Since 2015, Cox Communications added the channel on at least a few of their systems.
Since 2016, the channel was launched in Singapore on Starhub TV. It started broadcasting in Indonesia on Vidol App and Nexmedia in 2019.
In December 2018, HD test transmissions for the Smithsonian Channel were broadcast on the Astra 2G satellite used by the UK's Sky platform. The channel launched on 12 February 2019 on all major UK platforms.
In 2006 Carl Malamud of publishing and sharing non-profit Public.Resource.Org complained that private company Showtime and the publicly owned Smithsonian Institution were entering a contract to establish Smithsonian Networks without sufficient public disclosure. Under the contract Showtime would be able to deny permission to other media producers wishing access to Smithsonian collections. Documentarian Ken Burns said of this deal "I find this deal terrifying... It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America's attic to one company".