MIPCOM ’20: Discovery’s Elliot Wagner on COVID-19, demand for acquisitions

Discovery, Inc. presented its global upfront Monday (Oct. 14) as part this year’s virtual MIPCOM market, touring attendees through its catalog of content available for licensing. The upfront was presented by Elliot ...
October 14, 2020

Discovery, Inc. presented its global upfront Monday (Oct. 14) as part this year’s virtual MIPCOM market, touring attendees through its catalog of content available for licensing.

The upfront was presented by Elliot Wagner (pictured), SVP of program sales, and Saevar Lemke, VP of  international content sales and partnerships.

“2020 has been a challenging year for us all, personally and professionally. Yet it’s also a year where we’ve seen how important and relevant our business is,” Lemke said. “We’ve seen so many great ways of creating content and creative ways of producing. But we’ve also experienced an increased demand in our formats. It seems that 2020 has given us some time to develop new ideas and space to create new shows.”

Lemke spotlighted three formats the mediaco is rolling out to the global marketplace for the first time: TLC’s Dragnificent!, produced by Alkemy X; HGTV’s Drew and Jonathan Scott-fronted Celebrity IOU; and Cop Swap, produced by Janus TV GmbH.

The presentation included guests such as Michael Gaertner, Cop Swap producer; the Scott brothers; and Andy Singer, EVP of TV and digital content, at Alkemy X.

Realscreen caught up with Wagner to talk acquisitions, Discovery’s slate and navigating a virtual market.

Saevar Lemke mentioned that Discovery has seen an increased demand for its formats this year, would you be able to expand on that?

Over the past two to three years, there’s been an increased demand in our formats catalog. I think that’s largely to do with the merger between Discovery and Scripps and the lifestyle portfolio that we acquired. A lot of those shows lend themselves naturally to being formatted and localized.

When we talk about this year, with the production slowdown that’s occurred, a lot of people are champing at the bit and getting ready, but ‘What are we gonna do once we’re able to start producing?’ And I think that’s really put a renewed focus on original production. Formats are a very easy and oftentimes economical way of getting really great, local content that fits a need, particularly some of our studio-based shows and some of our competition shows. COVID, on the one hand, has really slowed things down. But on the other hand, I think when things do begin to open up, our catalog of formats, particularly, is one that’s gonna really resonate around the world.

In this particular, pandemic period, we’ve been very busy. And it makes logical sense, right? Original production has, for all intents and purposes, shut down. Now, it’s starting to open back up in certain areas. But there is a great demand for readymades and completed programming in the absence of any new productions. People were looking for acquisitions. Distributors like Discovery and others, we were able to step in, we have a massive catalog.

As a company, we’ve done a great job of continuing with a lot of original production. You might be familiar with some of the shows that have been produced using our talent at home, in their kitchens, producing what you can refer to as quarantine programming. Where a lot of other folks have really been relying on going back into their library and just re-airing, repeating catalog inventory. We’ve done hundreds of hours of original content during this time which I think gives us a competitive advantage.

Your presentation spotlighted three shows (Dragnificent!, Cop Swap and Celebrity IOU).  How do those titles individually or together serve as an example of the flavor of content Discovery is developing and greenlighting right now?

It’s a great cross section of all that Discovery has to offer.

Looking at something like Celebrity IOU, which I think is probably the biggest hit of the bunch there…  That show had tremendous ratings in the U.S., all the elements are very relatable and can easily be localized.

Cop Swap, obviously, much more on the factual side. But again, I think it’s a very relevant show, particularly in this time in which we find ourselves, globally. There’s so much social justice conversation happening around policing and equality, things of that nature.

Dragnificent! is more of a lifestyle show. But it also is very topical, this idea of LGBTQ, what traditionally has been a marginalized community, bringing it to the forefront. That show, which normally we would never have released or might never have released years ago, has done very well in the U.S.

We also feel like there’s a moment in time right now  in the production community where people are willing to take these risks. There’s a conversation happening around the world about serving marginalized audiences… And here’s a great entertaining show that can help you bring that to those audiences. That’s a really cerebral way of looking at it. It’s also great, entertaining content and it works.

If people are trying to go after a particular demo, or targeting a particular demo, a show like Dragnificent! will achieve that very well.

What are some of the challenges for you in navigating a virtual market vs a physical market?

Everything has changed. This is all new. We’ve all become accustomed to this idea that you just do a medium like Zoom. On the one hand, you can say, ‘Well, it’s just as easy to do [a video call] as it is to get together face to face.’ On the other hand, it couldn’t be any more different.

[In] sales, it’s all about relationships. The idea that when you’re in person, you can maybe have a meal, you can maybe go have a drink, you can establish those personal connections — you lose that over Zoom. And so, the business functionality remains. We’ve created some of our own tools with our website, we’re taking advantage of some existing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, but nothing really replaces that personal connection. So how can we do that? What can we do? We don’t have those answers, but we’re trying to figure out, like, how can we engage our clients beyond just the 30 minutes, ‘Here’s our website, go screen some content and call us if you like it.’

I think that will continue to evolve… We’re doing our best to try and take advantage of the tools to replicate business as usual. But I think everybody will agree that there’s nothing usual about the time we find ourselves in.

You can’t really understate how important some of those personal connections are. Whenever we go to these events and these conferences,  there’s always an element of new business, new clients, particularly now there’s a lot of new platforms that are evolving and new clients that are popping up and we want to be in front of them and talking to them about our catalog. But a lot of our business is these are clients we’ve been working with for years and years — decades in some cases.

Those are the relationships that you nourish over 10, 15, 20 years. It’s hard to just not see those people or to try and have a very impersonal Zoom call.

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