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“Our journey begins today”: What we know so far about Discovery’s SVOD plans

On the heels of Monday morning’s announcement concerning the BBC and Discovery’s 10-year content deal and the latter’s upcoming streaming service, the top executives for both companies maintain the deal ...
April 1, 2019

On the heels of Monday morning’s announcement concerning the BBC and Discovery’s 10-year content deal and the latter’s upcoming streaming service, the top executives for both companies maintain the deal arose independently of what’s been called “the Netflix threat.”

While on a press conference call to discuss the news, Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav said that the inception of the 10-year, £300-million BBC/Discovery partnership that will see BBC natural history and specialist factual programming exclusively available via a global SVOD service to be launched by Discovery in 2020, stems from the basic idea of offering natural history to the world, directly.

“We think it’s mission-critical…and it has nothing to do with these other broad streaming services,” said Zaslav. “It’s really about the transition of content – content is available on every platform. To be able to curate the best content and the best stories in one place in every language is something that, irrespective of these broad entertainment platforms, we think is necessary,” said Zaslav.

“It’s not based out of a threat, it’s based out of strength,” said Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, who joined the Discovery exec on the call. That combined strength of the two media entities previously resulted in such landmark factual content as Blue Planet, Frozen Planet and Walking with Dinosaurs, before their programming pact ended in 2013.

In addition, with the BBC/Discovery content deal being exclusive outside of China, the UK and Ireland, Zaslav said it was important to note that BBC Studios natural history content including Blue Planet and Planet Earth (pictured) will be coming off of Netflix, with Zaslav drawing a clear distinction between Netflix as a brand that “stands for scripted series and scripted movies” and what Discovery plans on offering with its service.

Netflix, however, is already investing in the blue chip natural history genre, with its debut effort, Our Planet, launching on the service later this week. Like Blue Planet and Planet Earth, it is coproduced by Bristol-based Silverback Films, and features Sir David Attenborough as narrator. With the BBC pulling its top natural history franchises from Netflix under the terms of the Discovery deal, the move could very well lead to an increase in investment in the genre from the Los Gatos-headquartered streamer.

Significantly, with the new deal, Discovery and BBC Studios have rebooted their previous content production partnership, to develop factual content for Discovery for both linear and digital distribution. Discovery and the British pubcaster will also co-fund a dedicated development team within BBC Studios.

“There was no question that we were stronger together,” he said. “We were going hand in hand around the world and our mission was the same… If we were the [New York] Yankees, they were the [Boston] Red Sox.”

Zaslav said they don’t have a name for the new streamer yet, or price point, but said it will most likely cost less than US$5.00. “There is more work to do on that,” he noted.

Although some of the content will land on Discovery’s portfolio of linear channels, Zaslav said a large chunk won’t – it will be made available globally, as an over the top, direct-to-consumer offering. The service will also most likely be subscription based. And while Discovery has been making significant strides in the sports content arena over the last several years, Zaslav told Realscreen that he wants the myriad services, including the GolfTV venture between Discovery and the PGA Tour, to be distinct entities serving their own “ecosystems.”

Calling the natural history content already in the library “our Marvel IP catalog,” Zaslav pointed to upcoming projects such as Serengeti and Perfect Planet as indicative of what’s to come. However, he also emphasized the “view and do” mission of the streamer, saying it will be “unconventional in spirit” and geared towards creating engagement and awareness of environmental issues through a mix of programming, podcasts, and lectures and interactive Q&As with prominent figures.

“Natural history is coming back to our core DNA,” he asserted. “Our journey begins today.”

(With files from Barry Walsh)

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