Discovery+’s Lisa Holme talks unscripted wishlist at Edinburgh TV Fest ’21

Lisa Holme, Discovery+ group SVP of content and commercial strategy, connected with the Edinburgh TV Festival on Thursday (Aug. 26) to discuss the launch of the streaming service, the effect ...
August 27, 2021

Lisa Holme, Discovery+ group SVP of content and commercial strategy, connected with the Edinburgh TV Festival on Thursday (Aug. 26) to discuss the launch of the streaming service, the effect that it’s had on the company’s content needs and strategy and more.

Speaking with Deadline Hollywood‘s TV editor Peter White, Holme talked about how the creation of the Discovery+ platform has caused a shift in the kind of content that Discovery looks for and how the streamer’s audience skews differently from cable.

“We’re incredibly proud of the launch of Discovery+ so far,” Holme said of the service, which went live in the U.S. on Jan. 4, 2021. She described the viewership thus far as being a “pretty even mix” between legacy viewers of Discovery content on cable television and newer fans looking to dive into the company’s deep well of unscripted content.

“We’ve got a lot of the Discovery superfans who want access to every episode ever produced, more of the stars and the franchises they love, the ability to watch it on any device ad-free, so there’s a big population of those users,” she told White. “But as we’ve all seen there’s more and more people leaving the cable ecosystem every day, so we’re catching a lot of those folks as well that otherwise don’t have access to Discovery content who are signing up to Discovery+, either cord-cutters or cord-nevers, who are finding stuff they love as well.”

Holme discussed how the audience for the streamer differs from that of the network, from not only the content perspective but also in terms of talent.

“On Discovery+ you may see us more interested in a little bit younger-skewing celebrities,” she explained. “We recently did Shark Week here in the States and we did a very successful show with David Dobrik and his crew, who’s really most famous on YouTube. That worked really well on Discovery+; probably wouldn’t have worked as well on Discovery Channel. So I think one of the areas of differentiation will be, who is the core fanbase of that celebrity?”

Holmes also said the freedom offered by a streamer means the company can be more flexible with things like format and genre.

“[Discovery+ programming is] really meant to be optimized for that streaming behavior,” she said. “Shorter runs, more arced, serialized, and tend to have, from a creative and tonal perspective, a real urgency to watch. Create some ‘FOMO’ — your friends are watching it and you want to participate in the conversation — so we look for shows that will drive buzz, that will create that need and intent to subscribe.”

She added that the freedom has allowed Discovery+ to focus on different kinds of content compared to the network.

“We’ve gone pretty big on feature documentary. Streaming is the home of the feature documentary much more than cable television is,” she said, adding that the company is beginning to shift towards more commissioned documentaries to go along with its recent string of big festival acquisitions.

“What you’ve seen on the service from a feature doc perspective so far, first half of 2021, has relied pretty heavily on festival acquisitions,” she told White, citing festival pickups like Rebel Hearts, Introducing Selma Blair and the SXSW best documentary winner Lily Topples the World. “We’re very, very comfortable in that space and I think you’ll continue to see us be aggressive at festivals. But starting in 2022, what you’ll also see sprinkled into the slate are true commissioned docs, and we’re very, very comfortable and have a great appetite for those as well… “The way to really make sure that the docs speak to our audience and are going to work on Discovery+ is to get in on the ground floor, and so we’re very excited about some feature docs that we’ve already commissioned and are at various stages of production.”

Holme also talked about how running a globally-focused streamer has changed the sort of content the company is seeking out.

“True crime, paranormal, dating, big social experiment formatted shows are particular areas of focus,” she explained. “Those genres tend to travel better in the unscripted space, and as Discovery+ is a multi-territory product and expanding into more territories as time goes on, we are looking for those shows that might work in more than one country, and whether it’s the show itself or a format that we can produce in multiple territories, that’s really exciting for us.”

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