The notion of the “big swing” has been an integral ingredient of Discovery’s company culture since its formation 30 years ago. And the activity of the past two years – be it the acquisition of UK indie production and distribution superindie All3Media or the purchase of leading pan-European sports channel group Eurosport – has certainly adhered to that notion.
Towards the end of his Media Mastermind keynote interview at MIPCOM in Cannes on Tuesday (October 6), Discovery Networks International president JB Perrette offered his take on the global company’s ultimate aim, and it was fully in line with the big swing mentality: “We want to be the leader in global entertainment in all screens. And that’s an evolution of one market to many markets… of one content genre to many content genres.”
Citing its launch in the mid-Eighties, Perrette said that Discovery Communications and its cable comrades began as “disruptors of the broadcast business,” and that embracing the opportunities and challenges provided by new technologies and market shifts has been a key to Discovery’s evolution. “We went from pay-TV as a model, to pay-TV plus free to air, to OTT,” he recounted. “We like the three businesses.”
Having those three businesses – and the partners required for each – co-exist peacefully is another matter, and Perrette said that while the goal is to have a million subscribers for DNI’s current OTT platform, D-Play, by 2017, it won’t be done at the cost of putting pay-TV affiliate partners at a disadvantage, and the amount of investment in original content for the platform or other OTT initiatives will mirror their growth.
“We are primarily still commissioning for television,” he said. “Are we commissioning for those platforms yet? Not today… We have to pace that with the scale of the business.”
Still, bringing Discovery further into the direct-to-consumer space – either with the Eurosport player, D-Play or a yet-to-come platform – is a priority for the near future, even if it involves going up against deep-pocketed heavyweights, such as Netflix and Amazon.
“Where we lose as an industry is when we don’t satisfy consumer needs,” Perrette said, while adding, “There are a lot more questions than answers.”
Another area that Discovery is globally bullish about is 4K content, and Perrette confirmed the company is putting “a lot of investment” into Ultra HD. But unlike 3D, another format that received a considerable push from Discovery and other broadcasters only to be met with a relative shrug from viewers, Perrette sees considerable opportunity for 4K and newer technologies such as VR across Discovery’s expanding portfolio.
“Our content looks best when it’s closest to real,” he maintained.
The interview also provided an opportunity to introduce DNI’s newly anointed president of content, former TLC/Velocity/Animal Planet group president and 20-year Discovery veteran Marjorie Kaplan, to the international audience. While Kaplan has only just begun her new role, she said she thinks her biggest challenge from a content perspective at this point will be figuring out “what’s going to really matter region by region, and can then build into something that can work globally.”
Remarking on the much-publicized move “back to brand” by Discovery Channel in the U.S., and how a move away from some of the network group’s more constructed reality fare to more authentic unscripted could impact ratings domestically and abroad, Kaplan noted a move towards “creator-driven non-fiction,” but added: “You have to follow the audience… We know we have to migrate to something that feels fresher and newer, and the question is how do you do that without leaving behind those who still watch [reality programming].”