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Discovery Strategic Opportunities - January 2009 - Broadcasting & Cable

Discovery Strategic Opportunities - January 2009

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STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITIES

For many producers, the Holy Grail of networks on which to be.  The most households, the widest global reach, the greatest prestige, and if Discovery gets behind it, a pretty good marketing campaign, too (especially now..they've really up the PR a lot).  They'll commission it, co-produce it (though they seem to prefer commissions), acquire it, license it, merchandise it, take it around the world.....you name it. 

For programmers, they've spawned a number of series and one-offs that are imitated and distributed globally...so to not watch them and their results would to be in error. 

Do know this, and it comes from the top:  Mr. Zaslav is thinking globally; to paraphrase, no longer will the US and UK commission separately...one "super-factory" will be built, to pick programs that will travel around the world "to 173 markets"...and he says (and we like this), "We can spend a lot more money on programming because we're only doing it once."  (WSJ, 6/11/07) (But there are individual territorial needs that will have to continue to be met.)

But wait, there's more:  "High-quality programming can break through the clutter" (IE, PLANET EARTH).  Discovery's core mission:  "to educate, inform, to satisfy people's curiosity".  Discovery is, "a knowledge brand....about making knowledge exciting, enjoyable and stimulating."

Discovery Channel is looking for Adventure, immersive, in the moment, energetic, informative, relevant, immersive, intelligence - specifically:  adventure, survival, people/places, science, engineering, technology, anthro/archae/palentology, space, environment, investigation (of the unsolved mysteries kind), exploration, nature, history (not "straight" history, more of a scientific approach to it), Biblical mysteries (again with a scientific approach), unexplained.

ORIGINAL:

The bulk of the Discovery schedule is not only original programming; it is independently produced original programming!  They do many deals with BBC and other large entities, but they still take pitches from Indies all the time.  Starting point is the e-submission, but they will take meetings at markets, if approached properly by email ahead of time.  Best way to submit is with a 2-pager of the idea, a little footage ("gets people more excited") and need to register it on the e-submission website.

Core genres:  pretty much science, space, natural history, history, and military...but there's that BIG category we call ACTION/REALITY and/or EXTREME HOW-TO...both of which are the big. Crime?   Not anywhere we see or hear.

ACQUIRED:

None to speak of, other than some Brit imports from time to time. SURVIVORMAN was a Canadian acquisition, via sister Science Channel. Ditto HOW IT'S MADE and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

PROGRAM SUBMISSION PROCESS:

Gone is the website warning about not accepting any new program proposals, so get goin', producers! Start with the website to submit a program: http://producers.discovery.com/esub/esub.nsf

Pilot or presentation tape, as always, is necessary for talent or for a complicated concept. Not so for most ideas. They can give you an on-the-spot read sometimes (let's face it: a fast NO is better than a lingering MAYBE!), so sometimes, one page is better than a full-blown pilot that gets shot down.

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

April's premiere of DEADLIEST CATCH brought great gains to the network...good thing, too It not only did well, it comprised over 25% of the prime time schedule (of 84 hours).   Dial in two other much-used series (DIRTY JOBS, MYTHBUSTERS), and you're at 53% of the total prime schedule made up of 3 programs.

In fact, add 2 other war horses, HOW ITS MADE and SURVIVORMAN, and you're up to 62% of the schedule comprised of 5 series.  Of course, a lot of prime on a lot of networks, broadcast and cable/sat, are doing this, and this month, it worked for Discovery.  But it cannot be a long term plan.

Most everything they're doing or announcing is in that "ACTION/REALITY" category, a la DEADLIEST CATCH.  So, producers, go out and find a dangerous thing filled with cool characters and a story arc, and you'll likely find an audience in Silver Springs.  SURVIVAL is a category that needs strengthening.   And SCIENCE is always welcome.

Discovery officials plan to "double down in this space (archaeology)".  So start diggin'.  And the latest is that they "want to reclaim the History category", which as History Channel becomes more Discovery-like, ought to be interesting.

Also important info:  While the network is stepping up its ownership of ALL rights, it is also looking for "Big Global Projects" appropriate for its worldwide channels.  Still, for the "right program" (lately PLANET EARTH, upcoming OCEAN), the channel will continue to consider co-pro deals.

Budgets are in the $200,000 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 (not daytime...under a third of that, but they're really not buying much specifically for that daypart).  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.  Though do keep in mind that they're looking for more global rights these days...or they're not as interested in the idea.  Zaslav keeps talking about "all the programs we (they) own"...not a bad way to pump up the asset value now that they're a public company.

Here are the headlines from RealScreen and NATPE in what they're going after these days (not exactly yesterday, but we hear nothing to contradict this):

Broadening the categories;  "reclaim HISTORY" as a genre;  more SCIENCE; MYSTERIES; CONSPIRACIES; ANTHROPOLOGY; ARCHAEOLOGY; FUTURE; ENGINEERING; KNOWLEDGE...and a mix of the genres is welcome.  Immersive storytelling with or without talent.

JUST IN -- 12/8/08 -- DISCOVERY NEWS FROM SCIENCE CONGRESS in FLORENCE:

Now reaching 98.1 million homes;  new mission statement:  "TO ILLUSTRATE THE WORLD IN ALL ITS WONDER, DIVERSITY AND AMAZEMENT";  to "ignite viewers' curiosity.  Looking for Adventure, immersive, in the moment, energetic, informative, relevant, immersive, intelligence - specifically:  adventure, survival, people/places, science, engineering, technology, anthro/archae/palentology, space, environment, investigation (of the unsolved mysteries kind), exploration, nature, history (not "straight" history, more of a scientific approach to it), Biblical mysteries (again with a scientific approach), unexplained.  "John Ford's strategy is now hitting the air." 

As for submissions there, "be realistic about what a subject in an ob-doc is capable of achieving".  IE They did a BASE jumping show and while the jumps were cool, the characters involved were not.  

Co-production models:  They are "completely open," but also like commissions because they also supply the international networks. Their format is 43:30, 5 breaks, 6 acts.  American TV track record is essential for new producers.  Non-North American talent is okay, provided the lingo is American-centric.  Helps to "get a champion" in the building. 

Best way to submit is with a 2-pager of the idea, a little footage ("gets people more excited") and need to register it on the website.

Pitch what feels like the concept of the brand.  Brand is really "the sum of all the parts" of the idea;  "Adrenalized programs" is what they are about. 

Bumpers and ins/outs to/from advertisements are VERY important and structured, but the network handles that.

GOT MORE?:

E-mail CableU feedback on our observations at info@cableu.tv

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