People/Biz

Realscreen’s Trailblazers 2014: Henry Schleiff

In our final Trailblazers Q&A, the group president for Investigation Discovery, Destination America and other Discovery nets discusses the rise of ID, and the value of stiff competition.
February 24, 2015

Our final Q&A for realscreen‘s 2014 Trailblazers series features Henry Schleiff, group president of Investigation Discovery, American Heroes Channel, Destination America, Discovery Family Channel and Discovery Life Channel.

In addition to marking further expansion into Europe, the launch of Investigation Discovery (ID) in Denmark at the start of November of last year also saw the network brand passing a significant milestone: it now reaches more than 100 million viewers outside of the United States.

However, ID’s success abroad couldn’t have come without the remarkable growth it has experienced in the U.S. over the nearly six years since Henry Schleiff took the reins in February 2008. In its early days, the channel was guilty of trying to be too many different things, and lacked focus, Schleiff admits. But focusing on its core niche has paid huge dividends, as the channel has grown from being a top 50 network, into one of the top five networks for women, and the number one network for length of tune-in among women 25-54, according to the Beta Research Digital Cable Subscriber Study.

When you took the reins at ID it was in Discovery Communications’ now defunct Emerging Networks Group…
It was the Emerging Networks Group, exactly. But we have emerged from it (laughs).

To what do you attribute ID’s growth?
I think what we fairly quickly focused on was the incredible popularity and breadth, if you will, of the niche. That sounds like an oxymoron – when you say breadth and niche – but the idea of how strong the appeal was, and is, for programming based on mystery, suspense, high stakes and crime, you could say, and doing it all based in truth.

Are you happy with all of ID’s schedule at the moment, or are there timeslots that you want to improve?
No – I think that’s a broadcast mentality, to say, ‘We’ve got to fix Thursday at 9 p.m.,’ or ‘We need a better lead-in for Sunday.’ We’re actually the opposite; what we need to be is brand-sensitive, meaning that almost all of our programming should be consistent in its appeal to viewers.

That’s not to say we want to be repetitive – we don’t – but we want to be consistent. Viewers today are so confused about what’s on and when it’s on, let alone what platform it’s on, and they’re looking for predictability. I think it’s irrelevant what the name of our show is at 9 p.m. on Thursday. What’s relevant is that [viewers] know they’re going to get something that’s fresh, smart and suspenseful.

Your newest competitor in the market is the soon-to launch Justice Network. How do you feel about that?
I’m delighted – absolutely elated – for any form of competition; even something like the Justice Network, because I think they are hors d’oeuvres. To the extent that they get an audience, people look to that kind of programming and hopefully enjoy it, and they say, ‘Where can I get more of it?… Where can I get the main meal?’ And that is, in fact, ID.

So I want to see more of our kind of programming out there; I want it to be successful on competitor networks. And I want to see the continued growth and popularity of mystery books and feature films, à la Gone Girl. We introduced Love the Way You Lie, a series which is very similar to Gone Girl, almost at the same time as the movie…

And obviously everybody is talking about the Serial true-crime podcast at the moment…
Absolutely – and we’re going to have some announcements around that coming up. That is the quintessential example of exactly what I mean; taking a group that has generally been listening to radio, or NPR, or some version of that. It shows you how broad the appeal is – it shows that what is old is new.

What’s next for ID? Where do you go from here?
The most important thing is that we follow the three threads and balance them correctly with what we’re trying to do – to be entertaining, informing and inspiring. This is a network that has tapped into the zeitgeist perhaps more than any other network. We can take some credit for that, but what we’ve really done a good job of is listening to the viewers. I think we’ve just got to keep our antenna up and listen to how we can continue to serve that audience.

  • Our Trailblazers feature first appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.
  • About The Author
    Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.

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