Discovery’s Stars Make Shows While Stuck at Home

With production shut down and sports on the sideline, Discovery is taking a homemade, do-it-yourself approach to keeping its programming pipeline filled and maintaining its connection with viewers dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Discovery has long drawn a distinction between the expensive scripted programming aired by most broadcast and cable networks and streaming services, and the lower-cost, yet-addictive shows on HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Discovery and other channels. At a time like this, the comfort offered by Discovery’s shows and the personalities that host them is something viewers crave. They’re cooking and fixing up their homes and cars, and that’s right in its networks’ wheelhouse.

Total-day ratings are up, and Discovery is running its most treasured shows during daytime and fringe periods with more viewers at home. While other networks try to compete by moving reruns of popular shows and movies to daytime, Discovery said it’s winning because it has fresh content.

Discovery produces nearly all of its programming in-house and has about four months’ worth in the can. The hosts of many of its shows are now making quarantine episodes, which will enable Discovery’s networks to stretch their original programming even longer.

When normal production resumes, Discovery’s shows should snap back and quickly refill its pipeline. All of that should give the programmer an edge with both viewers and advertisers, the company’s executives believe. “We could go business as usual for four straight months and not miss a beat,” Discovery president of U.S. ad revenue Jon Steinlauf said. “And we have the advantage of more people being home, and we have the advantage of no sports being on, and we have the advantage of being more more useful or more relevant now during these times where people are at home.”

Many advertisers have changed their message to one about getting viewers through this crisis and how we’re all in this together. “A lot of the messaging right now is so much related to trust,” Steinlauf noted.

Lots of Engagement

He said the networks are in a strong position based on where consumers spend their money these days. “The Discovery brands have a reputation of being highly engaged,” Steinlauf said. “People trust the content and they trust the talent, and therefore there’s more trust that carries over into the breaks for advertisers.”

Ad buyers are eager to hear about networks’ programming plans with production halted in order to determine how to allocate their clients’ budgets. Steinlauf added that Discovery’s research department said its programming has attracted sports fans looking for something to watch, which should also draw in ad dollars.

Discovery is encouraging its talent to stay connected with viewers, who often regard their favorite personalities as family. And even if production values aren’t the best, people will tune in to see them.

A recent show featuring Fixer Upper host Joanna Gaines cooking and baking at home with her family was the highest-rated weekend daytime show on Food Network in the last nine years, Steinlauf said.

Oprah Winfrey, Guy Fieri, Mike Rowe and Robert Irvine are making shows. The cast of Food Network’s The Kitchen is cooking. Popular couples from TLC’s 90-Day Fiancé are doing a season in quarantine, and HGTV has a show coming where designers consult with viewers over Zoom. Actress Amy Schumer is making Amy Schumer Learns to Cook with her husband, a chef.

Quick Turnaround

These shows can be available in days, making them feel even more relevant. “If you have the cast of The Kitchen talking about how to cook what’s in your pantry or in your freezer,” Steinlauf said, and consumers at home are also figuring out how to cook what’s in their pantries and freezers, “they’re getting inspired by this.”

Discovery is pitching advertisers that they should be part of these homemade shows. Steinlauf is looking for ways to integrate sponsors into these programs, but it’s tricky. Sponsorships could include on-screen graphics and being mentioned during tune-in messages.

Discovery’s strategy is also popular with distributors, Steinlauf said. “Cable television is more valuable in a recession than it is at any other time,” he said, “especially now, where people don't want to leave the house.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.