Discovery Analysis - December 2009

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DECEMBER 2009 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:

* Bold denotes programming change

SCHEDULING STRATEGIES:

Schedule has shifted from a consistent slate of series to one that features several nights mixed with single hours, series repeats, and specials.  Tuesdays have been the anchor night of late, using DEADLIEST CATCH as a springtime anchor with other series (SWORDS, COLONY) to follow.  Wednesdays have alternated MYTHBUSTERS and MAN VS WILD as the anchor.  Thursdays have featured a variety of series, including half hours, although none have settled there permanently.  Mondays and Fridays offer a variety of series repeats and loose titles with little to no consistency on a week to week basis.  Saturdays tend to push mini-stacks of the best performing series throughout the week.  Sunday recently returned to its roots, becoming the home for premiere specials and highlighted encores.

DECEMBER 2009 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:

Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2009 vs. December 2008  (% Change)

HH

M18-49

M25-54

Monday 8-11pm

-10%

-5%

-6%

Tuesday 8-11pm

11%

27%

22%

Wednesday 8-11pm

10%

11%

15%

Thursday 8-11pm

-19%

-18%

-20%

Friday 8-11pm

-15%

-19%

-17%

Saturday 8-11pm

-6%

-17%

10%

Sunday 8-11pm

-17%

-22%

-22%

MTWTFSS 8-11pm

-7%

-7%

-5%

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

Good news was scarce in the final month of the year.  For the 3rd consecutive month, audience levels dropped from the previous year.  Target men were down mid single digits, along with all of the other demos.  Median age went up 3%, but remains fairly young for a non-fiction service. 

Tuesday and Wednesday were the only nights to have a semblance of a regular schedule.  Probably not a coincidence, but they were also the only two nights to show a year on year increase.  More important, they were the highest rated nights of the week in the key adult and male target demos.  Tuesdays were driven by a double dose of DIRTY JOBS followed by a full slate of premieres for GHOST LAB.   Veteran series DIRTY JOBS keeps on trucking when it's in premiere mode, drawing some of the month's largest numbers.  GHOST LABS fell right around the network average, but lost a significant portion of its JOBS lead-in. 

Wednesdays are pretty much all MYTHBUSTERS all the time, with premiere episodes making the difference.  Christmas week featured the channel's spin on sister network Animal Planet's RIVER MONSTERS.  Unfortunately, MAN VS FISH w/ MATT WATSON collapsed in the 8pm slot. 

DESTROYED IN SECONDS was the only other regular series that also ran last year, with the male audiences off as much as 35%.  Series was finally pulled in the second week, replaced with stacks of crime inventory, Shark Week programs and Deadliest Catch.  Numbers didn't really rebound.

Landmark special PLANET EARTH continues to find its way into the schedule as well, although its best days appear to be behind it.  Audiences were off as much as 50% from last December.  Still, it's had a pretty good run these last three years. 

Sunday marked three weeks of premiere specials with mixed results.  Classic Discovery fare like CLASH OF THE DINOSAURS looked great, but didn't land a mass audience.  TWO WEEKS OF HELL (Navy Seals training) and a special on the SECRET SERVICE were very strong in the 3rd week.  Right in the strike zone for the male skewing network.  The final week brought a premiere night of EVEREST: BEYOND THE LIMIT with some really weak numbers.  Probably a good thing it's off the books heading into 2010. 

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

Still one of the best brands in the business.  The most households, the widest global reach, the greatest prestige, and if Discovery gets behind it, a pretty good marketing campaign, too.  They'll commission it, co-produce it, acquire it, license it, merchandise it, take it around the world.....you name it.  However, the bulk of the effort has shifted to global commissions.  CEO David Zaslav's desire to push product outwards to DCI's regions has come to fruition the last couple of years. 

With 2010 comes a new year and another round of new management. Longtime veteran Clark Bunting returns to the channel after a six year hiatus and he's bringing management of diginet Science Channel with him.  Too early to know what impact the change will have organizationally or editorially, but expect change.  Discovery's public announcements have emphasized a desire to strengthen the core brand.  Translate that into a return to the high profile specials that have gone missing the last few years. 

In addition, it's fairly easy to predict a commissioning strategy that will key on timeslot needs more so than the past.  Keep an eye on CU's grid for insights on what timeslots prove to have the largest appetite. It's probably safe to assume that Science Channel will start to operate more openly as a feeder network to the mothership.  If getting into Discovery proves a challenge, try Science.  You might find it to be an easier route to the flagship.

Budgets are in the $250,000 range (and lately, higher) per hour for prime (plus or minus, and plus a lot for the blue chip ones, of course, dinosaurs, volcanoes, CGI-filled things).  Series are under $150k per half-hour.  This varies according to their level of financing, international interest, whether they commission it or not, and a multitude of other negotiable and non-negotiable factors. 

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