Discovery CEO David Zaslav Shrugs Off Hulu, Netflix Competition In Non-Fiction: “There’s Really Nobody In Our Space”

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Discovery chief David Zaslav dismissed the notion that Hulu, Netflix or soon-to-arrive subscription services could develop into threats, arguing that the company’s long-established brands will carry the day.

Hulu put cooking in the foreground of its NewFronts presentation on Wednesday, unveiling a new destination called Hulu Kitchen and new shows with Chrissy Teigen, David Chang and Vox Media, parent company of Eater.

“There’s really nobody in our space,” Zaslav said during a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the company’s first-quarter results. “Yes, Hulu’s doing a few food shows and Netflix does some stuff, and a little bit of natural history. But all of the BBC content is coming off Netflix.”

Discovery and the BBC recently struck an expansive, 10-year deal that will see the companies collaborate on a range of initiatives, including a subscription streaming service launching in 2020. Zaslav said the service will be priced at less than $5 a month. The relationship, he said, will allow Discovery to create “big, event programming” consistent with its longtime core programming focus.

There is ample competition for the attention of nature lovers across the media landscape, beyond the deep-pocketed streaming services, however. AMC Networks’ BBC America recently set a new five-year deal with the BBC and is also forming a micro-network for weekend immersion in nature fare. BBC America will air Planet Earth III in 2022, meaning Discovery would get access only to later distribution windows. The BBC has not announced formal plans for a new Blue Planet installment.

Netflix’s progress, Zaslav argued, echoing recent comments from peers like Disney’s Bob Iger, in the end is a boost to Discovery. “They created a road and a path where people got used to paying for content,” Zaslav said.

About half of viewing, he said, is scripted series and films. “They’re going to be able to gorge on that stuff,” Zaslav said. “There’s loads of opportunity, from $7 to $15 and it’ll go up over the next few years. People will probably have one, two or three of those and they’re going to love ’em. Maybe they’ll churn between ’em based on who has a great series and some great movies.”

The other half of the market, however, is unscripted, and the traditional wheelhouse of Discovery benefits. “Natural history can be a big business,” he said, describing it as “a global business driven by family values.”

JB Perrette, head of Discovery’s international unit, said on the call that the company’s recent pact with the PGA Tour for a golf streaming service outside of the U.S. has brought benefits to the larger business in key overseas territories. That has been particularly true in Asia, which “has been a trouble spot for us, candidly,” he said.

“It has completely changed the game for us,” he said. “Where we weren’t having conversations, or people weren’t having conversations with us in the same way, now all of a sudden we’re having conversations.”

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