Discovery Pitches Packed Pipeline


Discovery Networks U.S. is looking for boosts in ad rates despite flagging ratings.

That was its message to advertisers and the press, prefaced on the optimism that its new shows will help reverse the ratings downtrend at a number of its networks.

Discovery made that case at its upfront presentation in New York Thursday night.

President of advertising Joe Abruzzese and Discovery Networks President Billy Campbell moderated a highly-staged two-hour performance in which talent from the various networks' new shows showed up to talk-up programming for the struggling suite of networks.

Afterward, Abruzzese told reporters he expected cable ad rates overall would be up 6%-7% in this year's upfront, and predicted ad growth for his own networks despite the fact that several are flagging in the ratings. "We're looking for growth in rates, growth in pricing and growth in value," he said.

In first quarter 2005, Discovery Channel was down 26% in prime time ratings, according to Nielsen. TLC was down 34%, and Animal Planet was down 12%. One bright spot in Discovery's portfolio in the first quarter was Discovery Health, up 43%.

Campbell noted ratings declines at the various networks, most notably TLC, but said he was hopeful for turnarounds after rearranging executives (several networks including TLC and Travel Channel got new general managers this year) and investing heavily in new programming.

TLC led the presentation with several new reality shows including a home construction show, The Adam Corolla Project, hosted by the comedian (who worked in construction before comedy), Going Hollywood about a team of LA interns, and The Sit Down, in which mob bosses serve as judge and jury to average neighbors and small businessmen with "issues."

Campbell took "a big part of the blame" for TLC's scheduling snafu of over-relying on home makeover show Trading Spaces. "The most important thing that's been hammered into me is to make sure the creative pipeline is full," he said, promising that new EVP and GM, Brit import David Abraham and newly appointed development VP Sean Gallagher (transplanted from Discovery Network in January) had good things to come.

"I'm not going to say it's the happiest time I've had since I've been at Discovery," Said Campbell, "but it's the most optimistic," he said.

"We've got the best sales team bar none, and now we've got the best team in programming and they've been given the opportunity to spread their wings in terms of financing," he said.

Earlier this year, TLC senior VP and GM Roger Marmet resigned and Discovery laid off 24 employees, mainly from marketing and new media divisions.

Major executives from the company were in attendance, including Discovery Communications founder and Chairman John Hendricks and President/CEO Judith McHale, in addition to general managers from most of the individual networks.

Several more were on a continuing upfront roadshow, preparing to make the same pitch in Chicago next week.

There was no official mention during the event of last month's announcement from Liberty Media Chairman John Malone that he would spin off the company's stake in Discovery Networks into a publicly traded company, Discovery Holdings.