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Discovery Plus Chief Lisa Holme: Walking the Line Between Bold Disruption and Saving What’s Left of Pay TV

On January 4, Discovery Plus debuted in the U.S. with no major device support hassles. The new $4.99-a-month SVOD service is available on all four major OTT device platforms: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV. And coming next is an international launch, in which Discovery will leverage its library of local-language content and portfolio of live sports to drive its direct-to-consumer offering across more than 25 key markets in 2021, including the Nordics, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Discovery Plus will also launch in Latin American markets, including a planned launch in Brazil, and in parts of Asia.

Discovery Plus chief Lisa Holme

(Image credit: Discovery)

While other conglomerates are going all-in with video streaming, disrupting traditional revenue streams like linear pay TV and theatrical distribution, the executive in charge of Discovery Plus, Lisa Holme, Discovery group SVP of content and commercial strategy, and direct-to-consumer, describes a more measured approach to over-the-top distribution. 

She spoke to Next TV about cord cutters, the new streamer’s reality content and expansion plans.

Also Read: Discovery Plus: Everything You Need to Know

NEXT TV: What are your subscriber growth goals for Discovery Plus over the next 12 months?

Lisa Holme: We’re focused obviously on subscriber growth, which is really about getting new people in and then making sure that we're satisfying them once they're there. We are continuing to roll out more and more content, particularly original content on the service. So hopefully that will drive growth in viewership of originals and growth in brand affinity for Discovery Plus. Part of what's key to that, particularly the roll out of original content, is making it really clear how this (content) is incremental to your cable subscription and to services you may already have. So making sure that we've got a really satisfying volume and quality of content that you can only see on Discovery Plus - that'll be what really drives the growth (of the streamer).

NEXT: Are you looking to hit a certain number in the U.S. and worldwide?

L.H.: We haven’t been sharing specific subscriber growth externally, but we are really looking to build a service that satisfies the users that we have

Who are you going after in terms of audience? Cord cutters or Discovery subscribers?  

L.H.: Ideally we're building a product that is satisfying for both cord-plus consumers and the cord cutters. For the cord-plus consumers, we're really leaning into that original content that you can only get (at Discovery Plus). In many cases with spinoffs of existing shows and/or new shows starring talent that are really associated with the Discovery networks, so that you're getting more of what you love. So we have four 90 Day Fiancé spin-offs on Discovery Plus. We have a special show with Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis from Food Network that isn't airing on Food Network (only on Discovery Plus) called Bobby and Giada in Italy. So for the cord-plus consumers, we're trying to really give them more of what they love and then for the cord cutter population we're really excited about both the opportunity to get all of our existing content to them in the ways that they prefer consuming content. So in addition to the known franchises for the cord-plus consumers, we are also trying to lean into really brand new original content that would appeal to those cord-cutters.

NEXT: Do you look at Discovery Plus programming as a way to drive subscriber growth or is Discovery Plus a complimentary service to the network?

L.H.: Both.

NEXT: Is there any concern that by offering Discovery content in a streaming manner, that Discovery will lose pay TV bundle subscribers?

L.H.: I think so many people that have pay TV are subscribing for news and sports, so the existence of Discovery Plus doesn't really have any impact on their ability to get news and sports in the most satisfying way through pay-TV. So for us, we're really thinking about, as people do cut the cord—whatever drives them to make that decision—we want to still give them access to our content in one way or another. That's what Discovery Plus is about.

Discovery Plus

(Image credit: Discovery)

NEXT: Discovery programming is reality based. Is there any non-reality based content that you are looking to introduce to Discovery Plus audience in the coming months?

L.H.: The core offering of Discovery Plus truly is around nonfiction/non-scripted programming. That's where we are the market leaders. That's where we truly distinguish ourselves as far as being the best, the highest quality, the most volume, the most variety in that unscripted space, so that is the focus. But even within the unscripted space, we are taking a few swings on genres that may not be quite as core to what we already do on the network. So documentary films is probably the most obvious of that, where we'll do a lot more documentary programming for Discovering Plus than what we do for our networks. 

NEXT: Are you looking for prestigious theatrical documentary fare that could see Oscar runs?

L.H.: There will definitely be theatrical style feature documentary films as part of the offering. A documentary called P.S.: Burn This Letter Please  (about a part of LGBT history that has never been told) played the 2020 festival circuit and is already live on Discovery Plus. We have a couple of pretty exciting announcements coming up about other documentaries that are potentially award contenders that we've made into theatrical releases. So we will go beyond the TV special type of documentary storytelling.

NEXT: Unlike many new streamers, Discovery Plus launched earlier this month complete with a thousand hours of original content. Do you think that the ability to create non-studio original content for Discovery Plus gave you a leg up in this streaming wars?

L.H.: As consumers are evaluating what streaming services are really critical for them, I think they are increasingly looking to, ’What can I get there that I can't get anywhere else?’ And that tends to be an itch that original programming scratches. ‘What can I watch that somebody hasn't already seen that's new to me and new to the world?’ So we knew original content was going to be really critical to the success of Discovery Plus. Because we produce unscripted programming where the production models can be really flexible, we managed to stay in production on a raft of shows while keeping everybody safe. So we have 90 Day Diaries, which was entirely self-shot at home by the cast and Amy Schumer Learns to Cook: Uncensored (the directors cut version of the Food Network show). So we’ve been better able to keep new the original content pipeline in production than if we were in the scripted space where it would be a little more challenging

NEXT: Discovery Plus does not have its own original commissioning team, correct?

L.H.: There’s not a separate Discovery Plus development team. The way we're working is every (Discovery) network's development team is out there, scouring the landscape, looking for the best programming, bringing it in, and then we all talk about it together. We then decide what makes sense to premiere on Discovery Plus and what makes sense to premiere on one of the networks, which will then eventually make its way to Discovery Plus. 

NEXT: How do you determine what shows will land on Discovery Plus and what shows will go to Discovery networks?  

L.H.: There are a few things that we are looking for in terms of what's right for Discovery Plus versus what's right for one of the networks? The younger skew is probably the most obvious, where we are expecting our subscribers of Discovery Plus to be a decade or two younger in age relative to the median viewers on the Discovery networks. The other big filter is that original content for Discovery Plus is really built for getting people in the door. What is the show that people feel like, ‘I have to watch that so badly that I'm going to pull on my credit card and become a subscriber of this service.’ Programming for the networks is generally more about driving viewership than about getting somebody to call their cable company and add that network to their package. So we're much more focused on content that's going to drive that subscriber acquisition. So it may be nosier or buzzier (content). Is (this content) going to be marketable? Is it more premium and makes people feel like they need to be part of a subscription service in order to watch it. 

NEXT: In the future will Discovery Plus have its own original content commissioning team?

L.H.: I mean there is and will continue to be a small team of folks who are working on content for Discovery Plus as their only job. (People who) wake up everyday and go to bed every night worrying about how the content is performing? What do we need more of or less of? But the network teams who have extraordinary expertise in true crime, food and in home will continue to be involved. There’s not a plan that the network teams will stop producing content for Discovery Plus. The network teams will remain very involved in all of the development and production of originals for whatever the platform is.