04/01/15: Discovery Communications


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BEHIND THE SCENES at the Upfronts
The People! The Parties! The Buzz!a

Discovery Communications is forgoing a splashy Upfront event this year to take their “up close and personal” message directly to advertisers. “We changed how things are done because our business is changing,” explained Joe Abruzzese, President of Ad Sales at an NYC press breakfast March 31. “We listened to our clients and realized we had to bring the presentation directly to them, in the most efficient, effective manner.” Besides, with so much to share about a portfolio bursting with 13 U.S. networks, who has time for a party?

There was, however, time for coffee, fruit and breakfast burritos, which journalists tucked into at 10 on the Park as David Zaslav took to the podium for his opening remarks. “We’re a purpose-driven company. We’re a brand about people figuring out their best lives and living it,” said the CEO. “We have the best creative leaders in the world, creating great content that makes a difference.”



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The Pitch
“Data has been an important part of the conversation,” said Abruzzese. “We’re investing in research tools to help meet our clients’ needs.” Abruzzese also touted custom research that shows the company’s nets rank low in clutter. “And that affects the impact of the messaging,” noted Abruzzese.

Linear’s just part of the story. “Our commitment to premium video is not only TV programming. We’re also innovating across all screens, especially in web native,” said Abruzzese. “Our goal has always been to deliver value for clients, offering them lots of cross-platform and integration possibilities.”

The Birthday
Discovery Communications turns 30 this year – a marker the company won’t be bashful about celebrating, with a family of U.S. networks that has grown to include American Heroes Channel, Animal Planet, Destination America, Discovery Channel, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, Investigation Discovery, OWN, Science Channel, TLC, Velocity, as well as Hispanic brands Discovery en Espanol and Discovery Familia.

Oprah Winfrey, featured in one anniversary promo, didn’t know who he was when they started talks about the company’s OWN network joint venture, said Zaslav – but she sure knew the name Discovery. Watching Discovery’s Planet Earth “changed the way she thought about the planet,” said the CEO.

Call it 30 years young: “Discovery reaches around the world, and we do it not just in non-fiction but in all genres,” said Zaslav. “We’re still growing and we think the best is yet to come.”

Foreign Affairs
International is a big part of Discovery Communications’ growth strategy. “As things start to taper here in the U.S., we have aggressive growth outside the U.S. that we can continue to sustain,” said Zaslav of the world’s number one pay-TV programmer, reaching subscribers in over 220 countries and territories. Discovery anticipates robust growth from international operations over the next five years, and will create “great content to drive it around the world.”

Connecting With Content
“We have sports IP, we have kids IP. When we look at the over $2 billion we spend, we don’t just look at linear,” said Zaslav. “We say, what do we own? What is our IP for the future? That’s one of the reasons we invested in All3Media.”

And Zaslav announced that All3Media, made up of 21 production and distribution companies across the UK, Europe, New Zealand and the U.S. and jointly owned by Discovery and Liberty Global, is acquiring UK’s Neal Street Productions (Call the Midwife, Penny Dreadful). It’s part of a strategy calling for All3Media to be “robust, a place we can go to for content, a leader in both fiction and nonfiction content for all platforms…and has great creative people that we can work with around the world.”

Taking the Upfront Temperature
The advertising market “in general is definitely better than it was in the fourth quarter, where value disappeared,” said Zaslav. “I would not say it’s robust, but it certainly has improved….Our story continues to be strong and our overall reach, being now over 12 and approaching 13 percent, gives us good hand going into the market.”

“The Upfront used to be about supply and demand,” said Abruzzese. “It used to be an indication of the strength of the economy. It’s not about those anymore. I think one of the keys is to be flexible  it really is the entire portfolio, that’s one of the things that will sell.”

What Clients Are Saying
What’s the feedback from Discovery’s take-it to-the-people Upfront strategy? “So far, the response has been terrific,” said Abbrezzese. “Not only the presentations, but the one-on-one dialogue after the presentations.”



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Just Asking…
After videos promoted a sea of exciting new programming (more on that in future Backstage editions), execs were asked what shows they’re most excited about.

Zaslav named Racing Extinction, a documentary about activists on an undercover operation to expose the hidden world of endangered species: “We’re going to do something with Racing Extinction that only Discovery can do. It will reach a billion people around the world. It’s an extraordinary film and we’re going to get behind that in a very, very big way.” (“Zas told me outside it was all the ID stuff,” joked Henry Schleiff, Group President of ID, Destination America, AHC, Discovery Life and Discovery Family.)

When it was his turn, Schleiff pointed to ID’s American Scandal With Barbara Walters, which has the legendary journalist revealing never-before-heard details from her most notorious interviews. “I’ve seen a rough cut of the first episode, and it is just amazing what never aired originally,” marveled the exec.

Count Joe Abruzzese another fan of Extinction. “As far selling it, we said, clients may not want to be part of it, it’s kind of controversial. But not at all – clients are flocking to it.”

Marjorie Kaplan, Group President, Animal Planet, TLC and Velocity chose a new series about three best friends going way (way, way) off the beaten path. “At the moment I’m most excited about 100 Miles From Nowhere, because it’s premiering this Sunday!” said Kaplan. “It’s so different from anything else on television.”

New Discovery President Rich Ross named Pacific Warriors, a docu-series following commercial fisherman who use nothing but a kayak and a paddle: “These people literally go on a Hawaiian sleigh ride, 40 miles an hour because these fish actually pull their kayak.”

Quote of the day
“Change and aggressive evolution is the key to growth in this business.”  David Zaslav

Coming up in Backstage at the Upfronts, hitting your mailbox at 6pm!

Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is currently in more than 56 million homes, and there are deals in place to get to 60 million by the start of the 2015-16 season. Bill Abbott, President & CEO of Crown Media Family Networks details how its going to happen.

All about CNNgo’s partnership with Lexus and Canon, according to Katrina Cukaj, CNN’s EVP of Ad Sales.

At the CMT Upfront tomorrow, country star Darius Rucker is slated to perform live at the Times Center on West 41st.

Keep Watching & Reading,
Lynn Leahey, Editor
Roberta Caploe: Associate Publisher @robertacaploe
Diane K Schwartz: Senior Vice President, Media Communications Group 

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