Resist the Temptation, Stick to Your Brand

As we move to new distribution platforms and screens, it will be more important than ever that our brands remain intact

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Hendricks_John.jpgWhen the idea for Discovery Channel came to me in the spring of 1982, I had a clear
vision for what I wanted the network to be -- a showcase for the type of compelling
nonfiction programming that had inspired me, such as Carl Sagan's Cosmos
and great BBC documentary series like the Ascent of Man and Kenneth Clark's
Civilisation. What I didn't have was a brand. I remember leafing through periodicals
such as Broadcasting magazine, looking at the early television network broadcast
brands, as well as the new cable brands that were springing up across the country.

I was drawn to more descriptive names, such as Ted
Turner's Cable News Network (which probably inspired me
to incorporate my company as Cable Educational Network,
though I knew we could never launch a service with
that name).

What I wanted was something bright-sounding and
uplifting that would closely describe not just the content,
but what viewers would experience when they watched. I
didn't want to go the route of Nickelodeon, which is now
an established and popular brand, but originally the word
Nickelodeon did not inform viewers up front that it was a
children's network. Establishing that type of brand would
have required a level of marketing spend that I simply
couldn't afford. Instead, I needed something that would
make an immediate connection with the viewer.

The brand actually came about after a meeting in late
spring 1984 with some cable system executives in Florida who
were interested in carrying the channel. I told them in the
meeting that I had yet to decide on a name, and they said I
had better come up with one pretty soon. So, I spent the flight
back to Washington staring at the five candidate words that
I had come up with: Vista, Horizon, Explore, Discovery and
Wonder -- and I kept coming back to Discovery. I knew how I
felt when I discovered something new. I thought the word was
comprehensive and broad enough that viewers could discover
the past through history programs, discover the future
through science and technology programs, and discover the
world through nature and cultural programs. I remember,
as the plane began its final approach for landing, circling the
word "Discovery." That was a Friday, and on Monday morning
we were the Discovery Channel.

After picking the brand, we decided, from a visual perspective,
to wed the typography with a globe. I wanted to convey
that the Discovery Channel was there to help viewers explore
their world. That globe has been with us ever since. Through
the years, every time we have hired a new marketing director
or creative head, their first mission, it seems, is to change the
logo. I always imagine how many times throughout Coca-
Cola's history there must have been efforts to change the
iconic Coca-Cola script that we all know, but they have resisted. That is something Discovery
also has tried to do—keep our logo consistent
and ensure that the programming on
Discovery Channel remains true to our
brand promise.

Staying on brand is a particular
challenge for the cable industry, much
more so than the broadcast networks.
CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox are broad
entertainment brands not connected
to viewers through a particular content
promise. Cable networks, on the other
hand, almost by definition, do not appeal to the lowest common denominator. Whether
it is Fox News, CNN, ESPN, Discovery or other networks, we know that we are never going to appeal tothe majority of television viewers.

At Science Channel, for example, we know, at any given
time, the channel is going to really appeal to about 25% of
television viewers who are information-seekers. That means,
in the course of a month, out of the 70 million households
who receive Science, maybe 20 million at most will actually
tune in. You can see that as a negative, that we are missing
out on 75% of viewers. I see it as a positive.

In cable, unlike the broadcast networks, we have established
our presence in the consumer mind through very
powerful brands that have a particular appeal, a connection
with an audience, who are loyal and dedicated in a way they
are not with broad-appeal networks. Viewers love the many
cable brands, not just particular programs. They come back
to cable because of the promise we have made about what
they can expect. Our focus should always be on nourishing
those viewers and staying consistent with what we have
promised. One of the most important responsibilities we have
as cable executives is protecting our brands and keeping them
consistent for consumers.

The temptation, of course, is to drift from the core promise
that speaks to a smaller segment of society, our particular
20% or 30% niche, and to go after a larger viewership. The
problem, however, with shows that stray off -brand, is that
you will get some viewers, but they typically will not be
viewers who are really attracted to your core programming.
We have experienced it at Discovery, and I have seen it elsewhere.
When a cable network drifts off -brand, it may enjoy
some short-term ratings strength over a period but then,
suddenly, the numbers start to shrink again because the
core audience has been driven away. As soon as you are not
predictable anymore, true to your brand promise, people
stop checking you out. This was true in the world of 50
channels, it is even truer in the world of 500 channels,
and it will be absolutely crucial as we embark on
the next phase in television's evolution.
Today, we are in a period of transition.
Over the next 10 to 20 years, the way we
consume content will change from the
world of numerical channel-surfing that
we have known since the inception of
television, to menus of content. As this
occurs, it is going to be the predictable,
quality brands that stand out and prosper.
I know, for example, that a made-for-
TV movie from HBO stands for something.
I know it stands for quality. HBO
puts tremendous effort and creativity into
everything it does. Otherwise, it wouldn't
be an HBO original. The HBO menu of movies
will stand out. It stands out now on today's digital
cable menus. It will stand out even more in the future. And,
likewise, at Discovery, we want our brands to stand out in the
documentary and nonfiction entertainment space. Especially
as new platforms and delivery technologies emerge, we want
to ensure that people seek out and trust the Discovery brand
as a place where they consistently find quality content they
can trust and enjoy, no matter how they are viewing it.

The critical importance of brand goes to the heart of issues
we are facing today with the Amazons, Apples, Googles,
Netflixes and whatever is coming next. As content owners, we
want the money these new distribution channels promise, but
as we look to take advantage of these opportunities we must
be vigilant in not sacrificing long-term sustainability for shortterm
gain. Keeping our content brand independent of the
delivery technology enables us to play in everything from print
media, Internet media, television media and hard copy media,
to all of the new technologies and platforms on the horizon.

Since we first launched the Discovery Channel in 1985,
I have always talked to our employees about the importance
of not defining our service as a cable network. Instead, we
are in the business of helping consumers explore their world
and satisfy their curiosity. As we move to new distribution
platforms and screens, it will be more important than ever
that our brands remain intact, or we will lose the connection
we have worked so hard to establish with our audience, and
our content will become simply a commodity.

Resist the temptation. Stick to your brand. Stay true to
your promise, and, through all of the technology disruption
on the horizon, your audience will stay true to you.

John S. Hendricks is the founder and chairman of Discovery