People/Biz

Summit ’21: Discovery execs talk experimenting for Discovery+, expanding into docs

Realscreen Summit attendees heard from Discovery’s top brass Friday (Jan. 29) in a session that offered new insight into the mediaco’s recently launched direct-to-consumer offering, Discovery+. The panel, moderated by Realscreen‘s ...
February 1, 2021

Realscreen Summit attendees heard from Discovery’s top brass Friday (Jan. 29) in a session that offered new insight into the mediaco’s recently launched direct-to-consumer offering, Discovery+.

The panel, moderated by Realscreen‘s editor and content director Barry Walsh (pictured, top left), featured Discovery, Inc.’s Nancy Daniels (bottom left), chief brand officer of Discovery and Factual; Kathleen Finch (top right), chief lifestyle brands officer; and Lisa Holme (bottom right), group SVP for content and commercial strategy.

“There were times during the beginning of the pandemic that we wondered, ‘Are we going to be able to really launch this?’” Daniels said. “The use of streamers has accelerated in a way we never saw coming during the pandemic… It ended up being the perfect time to really connect with an audience at a time when they were ready and hungry for it.”

Below, Realscreen compiled a few key takeaways from the session — including news of a yet-to-be announced social experiment series, Discovery+’s aims for documentary, and tips for producers pitching to the platform.

“WE’RE DOING A LOT OF EXPERIMENTING”

Discovery+ launched Jan. 4 with more than 150 hours of exclusive content and over 55,000 episodes from across its lauded unscripted portfolio, including Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, Animal Planet, TLC and the forthcoming Magnolia Network.

In its first year, Discovery+ plans to premiere 1,000 hours of original content. It also offers non-fiction fare from the likes of A&E, History Channel and Lifetime, as well as natural history content from the BBC — with more unannounced licensing deals in the works from third-party partners, Holme said.

Daniels, Finch and Holme said they’re looking for the usual fare that currently features across Discovery’s linear brands — including paranormal, automotive and travel, as well as mission-driven and co-viewing content — with a streaming focus.

As for social experiments, there’s already a few in the works.

“If the deal were signed, I would tell you about it,” Finch said. “We have an amazing dating show that we’re working on that is a huge social experiment that I’m incredibly excited about. We absolutely feel like this is a platform where we can try things. We’re doing a lot of experimenting right now. We want to be different and edgy and buzzy, and this is the place to try it. We have some really, really cool dating shows that are in the works that we will be announcing very soon.”

Another genre ripe for experimentation, Holme noted, is documentary. Just last month, the streamer picked up Jean-Simon Chartier’s feature-length documentary They Call Me Dr. Miami.

“We’ve been expanding into genres that are genre mashups, where it feels like a show that sits in between a couple of our networks, but maybe not on one of them,” she explained. “Documentary film is a real area of focus for us on the streaming platform in a unique way that is an extension from the best-of-real-life and unscripted factual entertainment that we do on the linear networks.”

Daniels is also experimenting on the factual side, with an eye toward content that might skew younger and tread into the relationship space. She added the service also offers an opportunity to build on the company’s tentpole programming such as Shark Week and create Discovery+-only events.

“We’re going to pick up more hours for Shark Week than we ever have before,” Daniels said.

“BRING US YOUR GREAT IDEAS”

Despite the new digs, Finch, Daniels and Holme emphasized to producers at Summit ’21 that the pitching process remains relatively unchanged.

“Our teams — Kathleen’s development team, my development team — they are considering all projects across the board for linear or Discovery+. That’s the way in. There’s not a magic portal to get just to Discovery+,” Daniels said.

Finch added: “When a pitch comes in, the producer should not feel beholden to figure out, ‘Is this a Discovery+ show?’…  That’s where we bring our expertise to bear as to where we think it’s going to be most successful, but a producer doesn’t need to figure out where the show should live. Bring us your great ideas.

“We are commissioning more hours than anybody in the unscripted world… We just want to make sure that the production community knows that we’re open and we’re eager.”

From Netflix to Disney+, the appetite for unscripted content has reached new heights. Still, Finch, Holmes and Daniels said they’re not worried about the competition.

“Nobody’s been doing more of this for longer than the Discovery teams,” Holme said. “I don’t think there’s really anyone who can compete with the breadth, depth and the variety we have within our genres.”

The Realscreen Summit runs until February 4.


DISCOVERY+ QUICK BITES

LISA HOLME ON DISCOVERY+’S ORIGINALS MIX AND INTERNATIONAL CONTENT:

“The majority of the content that Discovery, Inc. will be producing will premiere on the linear networks. We’ll have to watch and see what works. In the case of original programming for Discovery+, it’s not really a volume game… It’s more a question of creating that urgency and buzz and passion, particularly for the Discovery+ originals.”

“The focus for now is on English-language programming. We have some fantastically good content from Canada, from the UK… But I think in the next couple of quarters, you’ll start to see foreign language programming here as well which we are excited about.”

KATHLEEN FINCH ON NEW TALENT:

“One of the things I always like to tell producers is, if you have a talent that you think is interesting, don’t wait to build a pitch around that talent, come to us with the talent, let us tell you what we’re thinking of. We have a lot of ideas sitting on the shelf that we need talent for.”

NANCY DANIELS ON CANNIBALIZING DISCOVERY’S LINEAR AUDIENCE:

“I don’t think we’ve ever really seen that proven out. What I’ve seen is, a hit is a hit is a hit across all platforms. Look at 90 Day Fiance. That show is huge on linear and it’s also huge on all other platforms… All boats rise, if a show is doing well, it will lift up every platform that it touches.”

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is the Associate Editor at Realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.

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