Upfront 07

Ramping Up Social Networking, Mobile and YouTube

CEO David Zaslav on Discovery's Digital Plans

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Discovery Networks took one more much-needed step toward digital growth last week when President-CEO David Zaslav appointed his former NBC colleague Bruce Campbell to the newly created position of president-digital media, emerging networks and business development. The hiring was a fitting passing of the torch for Mr. Zaslav, who served as NBC's head of cable and new-media distribution through the end of 2006.
With regards to user-generated content, Discovery President-CEO David Zaslav said, 'The traditional rules are that content has to be highly produced. Authenticity is sometimes more important than highly produced content.'
With regards to user-generated content, Discovery President-CEO David Zaslav said, 'The traditional rules are that content has to be highly produced. Authenticity is sometimes more important than highly produced content.'

Just days before bringing Mr. Campbell on board to a newly restructured team, Mr. Zaslav spoke with MediaWorks about his plans for making Discovery a more digitally viable company in the proper venues and platforms.

MediaWorks: So you're 10 weeks into your new job at Discovery, and already you've made some pretty major changes on the executive side. But where do you stand with digital and new-media initiatives?

David Zaslav: We're kind of in the waiting game. We have 20 years of content and there's a ton of value there, but the question is how do we take that content to consumers? We're waiting for the right big deals to make the move. We're trying to find the right deal and the right economic model. There's a big gap between the two.

MediaWorks: What are your thoughts on Google and YouTube? NBC recently partnered with them for their own dedicated channel, while Viacom is slapping it with a $1 billion lawsuit. Is there a useful partnership there for Discovery?

Mr. Zaslav: We'd like to do a programming split [between our sites and YouTube]. If all the content owners gave their content to Google and Yahoo, how do we use all the breadth of the content? Consumers are starting to be interested in the web in a new way, as driven by Google and YouTube.

MediaWorks: What about social networking? You have 11 networks at Discovery that each cater to a niche community, so certainly there's more potential to engage them beyond the linear network than you've exploited thus far.

Mr. Zaslav: We're in this middle period where we don't want to move too quickly. We bought petfinder.com and put it together with Animal Planet to take a look at our programming on our own verticals. We're looking at the new-media business and seeing what makes sense. We have some content on iTunes. The numbers are good, but the economic model is not strong. We're looking at whether we want to continue that relationship.

MediaWorks: What has been the best model for your content thus far?

Mr. Zaslav: The best model for us is mobile. It allows us to work most effectively.

MediaWorks: You have four established brands in Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet and Travel Channel, with seven emerging networks still rising in carriage gains and programming identities. What are your plans for further expanding those developing networks?

Mr. Zaslav: Rupert Murdoch spent two years to build his business news channel, but we have four channels fully distributed and we also have seven channels in over 40 million homes. We want to bring more attention to advertisers with our channels in 40 million, 50 million, 65 million homes. There's a real opportunity for us to build brands in a more meaningful way.

[At NBC Universal] the Sci Fi Channel is in 88 million homes with a very strong fan base, and they have more resources and more cross-promotion. Discovery, meanwhile, took to the Military Channel, where the core is interacting with the Iraq War. We took a look on the web and the user-generated phenomenon, which is huge. We wanted to take user-generated content and put a few hours of it on the Military Channel. The traditional rules are that content has to be highly produced. Authenticity is sometimes more important than highly produced content. You can learn from new media. For 24 hours, we had sons and dads in front of the camera; very real social networking. We want to build that across all of the channels, building pools of people who are really passionate and talking about shows and subjects.
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