Holding Out for American Heroes

Discovery Communications in March will rebrand its Military Channel as American Heroes Channel, the third network to take on a new look and name under Henry Schleiff, group president of Investigation Discovery, Destination America and Military Channel. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead spoke with Schleiff at the recent Television Critics Association gathering about the rebranding strategies as well as what other Discovery digital networks might be ripe for future makeovers.

MCN: What was the strategy behind rebranding the Military Channel?

Henry Schleiff : To be clear, this American Heroes Channel is not a rebrand but a broadening of a network that has a very clear core audience in place with respect to Military. The challenge is to take that audience and build on it. So much of Military’s programming is associated with history and some of our finest moments. I don’t think it only has to be about people in uniform, but we can extend it a bit to people who serve our country in any number of ways. It’s been said courage is a quality that makes all other qualities possible, and I think there are a lot of fantastic stories out there. I think this country is searching for heroes, whether it’s sports television or what have you.

MCN: Discovery has broadened or repositioned a number of digital networks in recent years. Has the strategy been successful for those networks?

HS: Yes, and I think you can start with the success that we’ve had with Destination America [formerly Planet Green], which has really blown out of the blocks quickly. It’s only been around for a year, but it’s very quickly become the No. 1 network in its key demo [men 25-54 among ad-supported networks with up to 60 million subscribers]. It’s just touched a nerve in a good way with its sense of Americana, and the shows that you’re seeing that highlight travel and food … seem to be working on four or maybe five nights, which is really unusual on a network that is new to the game.

We’re very fortunate with that … I think it has a clear brand, and perhaps it was launched at the right time and has a really great future.

While ID is no longer a rebrand, it continues to be amazingly successful for women 25-54, beating established brands. I say if there’s one network that will have a continually strong breakout year, as it had in 2013, it will be ID. The network is fulfi lling a real need from the viewer’s perspective. The genre of mystery, suspense, is something that our audience can’t get enough of. You see bits and pieces of it on other networks, including CBS, and we hope to be beating CBS at the end of the year [in the demo].

MCN: Will we see any other Discovery digital networks rebranded in the near future?

HS: We’re always looking at our portfolio to see what makes sense and what is in the bounds of what we’re committed to do with our distributor partners. I think it’s been a very good partnership. We always look around for opportunities. These two — Destination America and AHC — we saw the opportunity there, so we’ll continue to monitor the marketplace. If we see something that may even exist, but if we think we can do a better job to actually do something bigger and bolder and nosier, we’ll look at it.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.