TV Upfront

Discovery and Scripps Approach Ad Buyers as One for the First Time

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Credit: Discovery, Inc.

Discovery Communications and Scripps Network employees were prohibited from speaking to each other while the companies' merger proceded, until it was finally completed last week. But later this month the newly formed Discovery Inc. will make its first unified pitch to advertisers during a seven-city road show.

"The challenge was trying to pull all of this together without being able to talk," says Jon Steinlauf, a Scripps executive who became chief U.S. advertising sales officer for Discovery.

The deal added Scripps' HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel to Discovery Communications networks such as Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC and ID. Immediately after it closed, more than two dozen people met in a conference room for seven hours to run through every element of the presentation, going over which on-screen talent will attend, the networks that will be featured and the overall messaging, says Laura Galietta, senior VP of ad sales marketing and branded entertainment at Discovery. She previously held the same title at Scripps.

"Our goal is by the time we get to Detroit [home to the first presentation] for it to be balanced and representative of both sides," Steinlauf says.

The theme of the pitch, which will come to New York City on April 10, is showcasing the value of "real-life entertainment" for advertisers.

In a sea of scripted content, often ad-free, from the likes of Netflix, HBO and Hulu, Steinlauf says there's a "scarcity of impressions for quality audiences." With delayed viewing and ad-skipping common, he says 97% of the viewing across Discovery's channels is done live.

But Discovery faces the same challenges as the rest of the industry: Cable subscriptions are deteriorating as viewers cut the cord and increasingly turn to non-traditional platforms for entertainment.

With the merger, Discovery certainly grows its market share, which Steinlauf says will allow it to start writing deals earlier in the approaching upfronts negotiations for ad time in the next TV season.

One ad buyer says it remains to be seen how the merger affects dealmaking.

"Scripps is notoriously hard to deal with during the upfronts," one media buyer says, as they are "typically working from a place of strength."

"Discovery, which has always had a lot of network mouths to feed, is typically better to partner with. There are more buttons to push in a negotiation to make it a win-win for both," the buyer continues. "So it will be interesting to see if the need to fill all the small network buckets will make Scripps more flexible on Food Network and HGTV or will all the Discovery networks be a problem now too?"

Discovery Communications discontinued its glitzy upfronts stage presentation in 2015, instead meeting with agencies and clients individually. But Scripps has continued going city to city along with its talent to speak with marketers via staged events.

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