Summit ’20: Discovery’s Kathleen Finch on crafting “loud, sticky” content for her brands

NEW ORLEANS — Kathleen Finch, chief lifestyle brands officer for Discovery, sat down with The Hollywood Reporter senior writer Michael O’Connell Tuesday (Jan. 28) at the Realscreen Summit to discuss her ...
January 29, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Kathleen Finch, chief lifestyle brands officer for Discovery, sat down with The Hollywood Reporter senior writer Michael O’Connell Tuesday (Jan. 28) at the Realscreen Summit to discuss her role, how the media company has evolved and trends impacting the non-fiction screen community.

Finch (pictured) covered a swath of topics during the keynote conversation, beginning with the merger of Discovery and Scripps Networks Interactive in 2018, which brought brand such as TLC, Investigation Discovery, Animal Planet, HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel under one roof.

“The biggest takeaway is how similar the brands and the audiences really are,” Finch said. “It’s an interesting thing to work for one company for as many years as I did, and look across the aisle and consider the other company to be your mortal enemy, and the next thing you know they’re your partners… What’s great is that we now all have these smart, aggressive, competitive people on the same team.”

For Finch, another key benefit was that Scripps brands could leverage Discovery’s international presence. In just the last year, those brands have launched in South Africa, the UK, Italy and Germany, to name a few locations. The key, she adds, was maintaining the identity of each brand.

“In the television environment, there has never been a time when brands were more important than they are now,” she said. “That’s sort of the Scripps side of me. We always thought of [channels] as brands, especially at HGTV and Food Network… The brand is very ubiquitous but it speaks to a passion that our female fans have that we superserve.”

Creating content for that viewership — from the 90 Day Fiance franchise to Christina on the Coast — that serves drama, emotion and unexpected outcomes is top of mind for Finch and Discovery.

“You need to be a little bit loud, a little bit sticky, a little bit unpredictable if you’re going to cut through, because never in the landscape of television have there been more choices to come to than there are right now,” Finch said. “If you’re not going to be a little bit big and loud and squeaky, people aren’t necessarily going to hear from you.”

Though, as the rise of streamers disrupts viewing habits, Finch maintains that linear channels like HGTV, TLC and Food Network have a competitive advantage in “superserving” genre-specific content 24/7.

“Being a brand that stands for something is so incredibly valuable. You turn on one of our networks because you feel like watching crime, you feel like watching an emotional story, you feel like watching food content,” Finch said. “Obviously, a lot of the streamers want to get into the lifestyle business… It’s a very different value proposition and a very different environment.”

Though she doesn’t see streamers as competition right now, Finch said that competition has its benefits.

“Competition is good for all of us. It keeps us on our game,” she explained. “If they were building out a vertical that was just in our genre, then that would be competition. But all the streamers are very broad-based. And, frankly, where they excel is in scripted… What we really focus on is making sure that our brands are so specific that we never, ever, ever disappoint one of our core viewers.”

Among other topics discussed — from a potential writers strike to the upcoming U.S. election, and launching digital content and choosing on-screen talent that reflects the diversity of each brand’s viewership — Finch addressed the backlash Discovery faced last year after it implemented a new protocol for paying for programming.

“We all know without a doubt the industry has changed,” she said. “We can’t let things sit on the air for a long time until it finds its footing… We have to spend our money in a little bit more of a thoughtful process.

“We still consider ourselves to be great partners. And in success, we are going to help you build your business to untold heights… But everything is more measured now.”

(Photo: Rahoul Ghose)

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