Discovery CEO David Zaslav, days after unveiling Discovery+, said the company had been “quietly and methodically” stockpiling content for several years and honing its IP for the last five to eventually launch its own service in a crowded market where it thinks it has distinct advantages.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Zaslav on Monday, during an hourlong conversation at a virtual tech, media and telecom conference put on by UBS. “We’ve been committed to this. It’s why for the last 5 to 6 years we have not been selling content to third parties.” He said that’s also when, prodded by his mentor and Liberty investor John Malone, Discovery asked itself, “Do we have content that people will watch, will pay for? It’s why we went into the sports business in Europe. Why we bought the Olympics, why we started producing a significant amount of local content” and why it bought Scripps Networks Interactive in 2019.
“The driving force was IP… We may be wrong about the IP that we have,” he said, but the concept is straightforward — that half the time people watch screens, they’re watching scripted content, and the other half they’re watching Discovery’s brand of content, real-life entertainment. He thinks there are too many scripted services and expects a shakeout in the next two years.
Discovery last Wednesday announced Discovery+ will launch globally January 4 with an initial 5.2 million subscribers. The service will have around 1,000 hours of original content in its first year, bringing together all of its factual brands. In the U.S., Discovery+ will launch with more than 55,000 episodes of 2,500 current and classic shows from Discovery’s portfolio of networks including HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.
A Discovery direct-to-consumer service fills a niche for fans of cooking, home improvement, history, true crime and other nonfiction genres. Execs at an investor meeting didn’t give any predictions but anticipated “tens of millions” of subs. They touted a total addressable market of 470 million, including 70 million in the U.S. and 400 million overseas, where Discovery has a major footprint, operating in 200 countries and territories in more than 50 languages.
Fare includes a new 90 Day Fiancé tentpole series, a topiary competition series with Michael Urie and Martha Stewart, a road-trip adventure series as part of its ambitious original content plans for its new streaming service and an exclusive first-look at shows from Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network including Fixer Upper: Welcome Home and cooking series Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines.
It will join glut of streamers from Netflix Amazon and Hulu to Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max. Zaslav said Discovery+ is “one of one.” It’s a good companion to each of those, and the product is a companion. “People like spending time with our characters and our brands. A lot of the other services you put on at 8 or 9 at night… We find people are putting us on while they are working or cooking or home schooling their kids,” he said. “We feel like scripted has had its moment and this is our time.”
Internationally, Netflix “is the only real scaled player” so far, he said, though Disney+ is growing. Like Disney+ — and unlike other streamers — he said Discovery+ has highly recognizable brands from Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart to Chip and Johanna Gaines to its ubiquitous networks. “It’s hard when people say, ‘We’ve got a lot of great shows you want.’ The first reaction is, ‘I don’t need more shows or a list of shows.’”
Discovery’s annual free cash flow of $3 billion can help support Discovery+ globally. Execs said last week that content spending – less than scripted rivals in any case — would hit a high next year then ramp down.
Discovery+ will to use the Olympics to drive subscriptions in Europe. Its Eurosport subsidiary has rights to the postponed 2020 Tokyo summer games, now skedded for 2021 (start date: July 23) and the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022. “The entire Olympics, start to finish, in local language, will be up on Discovery+,” Zaslav said. The proximity of the two events is unusual and “could be a huge engine for us to drive it .. to jump-start [it], and we are using it that way.”
Launch partners include Verizon in the U.S., which helped give Disney+ an initial boost, and distributors like Sky and Telecom Italia in Europe.
Verizon is “the best direct marketing company. We are lining up right behind them,” he said.