Discovery Networks

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THE PLAYERS: There are 13 networks in the stable, but Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel and Discovery Health are considered the big five.

KEY EXECS: The effusive Joe Abruzzese heads sales for the group, his right-hand man is Scott McGraw. Billy Campbell is the president of the group, and this year eyes will be on him as well as TLC General Manager David Abraham to see if the two networks can reverse course after significant ratings struggles.

THE RATINGS GAME: In 2005, Discovery was down almost 14% in viewers 18-to-49 and 25-to-54 compared to 2004. But 2006 has been kinder to the network, which is down 1% in 18-to-49 and flat in 25-to-54. In 2005, TLC dropped 22% in viewers 18-to-49 and 21% in 25-to-54; so far in 2006 it's off 2.5% in 18-to-49 and flat in 25-to-54. Animal Planet was down about 5% in both demos in 2005 and has fallen about 16% so far in 2006. Travel Channel was statistically flat in 2005 and so far in 2006 is up 16% in viewers 18-to-49 and 11% in 25-to-54.

WHAT YOU'LL HEAR: Discovery and TLC will be touting a return to their roots after criticism that Discovery had turned into tattoo TV and TLC into the hammer-and-nails network. The latter recently introduced service programming aimed at 30-something first-time homeowners and parents. Discovery signed a high-profile deal with Ted Koppel. Sales execs will push the parent-kid co-viewing nature of Animal Planet. And it will seek to grow revenue around Travel Channel's poker programming. Discovery Health, though small, has room for ratings and revenue growth, said Mr. Abruzzese.

LAST YEAR'S UPFRONT: Discovery worked hard to resist lowering its cost-per-thousand rates in response to its ratings drop and sacrificed volume. All in all, it booked about 15% less ad revenue than the year before.

THE BUYERS' VERDICT: Media buyers would cheer a return to Discovery and TLC's core brands-but they're reserving judgment until it happens. "They've lost their way, they aren't what they were," said Ira Berger, director-national broadcast for the Richards Group, Dallas. "Ratings are only one part of it. ... In the long term, you're much better off to stand for something."
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