Liars and tigers and sharks, oh, boy: Heartless criminals and frenzied animals will continue to make up the lion’s share of the Discovery’s multiple-network menu. But count on more scripted shows, sports, plus an commitment to increase the world’s endangered tiger population, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told ad buyers and media journalists during today’s breakfast upfront at New York’s Time Warner Center.
But Zaslav saved a big tease for the end of his presentation. “Shark Week was very successful for us,” he said of the Discovery Channel’s signature summer scare fest, “but we wanted to take it to another level. “When you think about world-class swimmers, I think two things come to mind. Sharks. And Michael Phelps. And Michael Phelps will be part of Shark Week on opening night, where he’ll be aligning with the sharks and we’re going to have a lot of fun with him.” That was all Zaslav would say about the series, which will begin July 23. As owner of 23 Olympic gold medals, the champion has enough precious metal, perhaps, to offer protection from shark bites.
As for the tigers, Zaslav also saved that for the end of a presentation in which he praised the expansion of Discovery Channel network around the world, the companies ownership of content across all platforms and particularly the network’s capture of female viewers with shows like The Haves and the Have Nots, Tyler Perry’s scripted series for OWN, the netweork co-owned by Discovery and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.
“We have a charitable arm of Discovery that’s taken over 1 million acres in northern India,: he said, “to see if we can help double the tiger population, which is less than 4,000 around the world, over the next six years.” It’s called “Project Cat,” and in time-honored tradition that has Discovery Channel upfronts sending everyone home with a stuffed animal, this year’s group were given tiger cubs with their cookies.
Zaslav was upbeat. “We are the only media company that owns all of our IP everywhere in the world, on every device,” he said. “So if crime is working, we can take it into every country, we can take it on to any device, we can create a $3.99 crime app on Amazon, which we did.” Indeed crime is huge on the Discovery Channel and will only grow, thanks to Henry Schleiff, Group President responsible for Investigation Discovery (ID), American Heroes Channel and Destination America.
Calling Schleiff “our resident savant,” Zaslav point out that the veteran producer “has done something I didn’t think was possible.” Schleiff and his team “have figured out with energy and pizzazz how to create a channel from nothing. Four years ago, nothing. Today the number one cable channel for women.”
Later in the presentation, Schleiff outlined plans to keep that audience coming back for more documentaries and re-enactments of gruesome crimes and serial murders, including some cases that just seem to keep on giving, including those of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam,” Klaus von Bulow and the Unabomber.
“I don’t think viewers have ever experienced such an exciting explosion focused on a single genre like we are currently seeing with the success of true-crime stories and mysteries on every possible media platform,” Schleiff enthused. “In that regard, ID has the distinct advantage of being the one and only place viewers can find original mystery and suspense content, 24/7, with its unique mix of series, specials and movies that entertain, inform and inspire.”
Zaslav told the group that Discovery’s “content investment went from about $400 million to $2.3 billion, and that’s all money that we put on the screen…And then we have Group Nine, which is a huge big swing for us and we have a whole different culture now in a company that we own almost 40 per cent of.”
That, he said, will help direct the channel into the future. “It’s about changing the culture of our company. As we look to pivot from a company that was about channels to a company that’s about IP, we have to figure out how to create IP that can be on every single device. Group Nine now reaches over 5 billion streams a month. We are the number one provider of news video on Facebook. We have three Snapchat channels and today we’re going to announce another one. We’re learning how to tell stories in 1-minute snippets.”