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Short-Form Content Drives Discovery VOD Gains

An increase in short-form content has resulted in large gains for video-on-demand usage for a number of Discovery Networks U.S. services.

During September, VOD usage across all of the programmer’s networks more than doubled, growing 101% versus orders in September 2006, according to statistics measured by Portland, Ore.-based Rentrak. Discovery doesn't disclose aggregate usage numbers.

Setting the pace in terms of percentage growth in September was on-demand fare from Discovery Military Channel, Discovery Health On Call and The Science Channel, which posted 349%, 276% and 133% advances, respectively, over September 2006 figures.

A common thread for their amelioration: the proliferation of more short-form, “snackable” content –20 minutes or shorter – said Rebecca Glashow, Discovery vice president of new media distribution and domestic distribution.

Glashow said Discovery re-launched its strategy in August 2006. “What we determined is that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to VOD. For Discovery, TLC and Animal Planet, we have a more episodic approach,” she said. “We’ve put up entire seasons of [TLC’s] LA. Ink and [Animal Planet’s] Meerkat Manor. Essentially, we’ve let viewers time-shift the show.”

For Science, Military and Health, which are more information-oriented, Discovery created extra content that goes beyond shows and specials. “This is for passionate viewers who are curious and want more information. They want to go deeper. We want to help them snack and engage.”

To that end, Glashow says that Science Channel, which evenly divides short- and long-form VOD fare, categorizes content around such pillars as weather, engineering and space. The service is also featuring all six episodes of new series Mars Rising.

Health on Call’s VOD content, almost entirely short-form, centers on diet, exercise, tips for healthy living, diagnosis and treatment information. The network will also offer a sneak peek of its 2008 National Body Challenge, a week before its linear premiere.

About 70% of Military’s on-demand content is short-form. Currently, Military Channel’s VOD lineup includes “Tributes to the Troops,” a compilation of heartfelt comments from family and friends to loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. Comcast digital subscribers hitting a “Top – Veteran’s Day” button can view Day After D-Day and Pearl Harbor in Color.

This is not to say that the programmer has not rung up VOD gains with its more fully distributed networks, which feature full episodes and specials like Planet Earth. Discovery Channel’s 11-part project has earned over 2 million VOD views, the most since the company began tracking numbers in October 2004.

During September, Discovery Channel saw its VOD usage improve 135% from the prior-year period. The network, currently presenting the last two episodes from the first season of Everest: Beyond The Limit to allow viewers to catch up or reacquaint themselves with last year's storylines, will make the entire sophomore season available on-demand. The installments are flanked by shorts and extra materials. VOD viewers can also watch full seasons of Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, among other series.

Glashow said VOD previews have helped linear performance. “We offered Planet Earth standard- and high-definition content with Comcast and had strong viewing in those markets on the linear network,” she said.

In addition to L.A. Ink, TLC’s on-demand package, which was up 81% in September, includes full seasons of its predecessor Miami Ink. Upcoming: the first episode of the new Flip that House season will premiere on VOD on Dec. 28, a week before its TLC debut.

For those who can’t get enough of the drama of Meerkat Manor, Animal Planet’s on-demand offering, which grew 20% in September, is the place to be. The entire third season, recaps of the first and second campaigns, plus top 10 moments and “The Best of Flower,” a look back at the late and lamented matriarch meerkat, can all be accessed on-demand.

Glashow explained that Discovery has an edge from owning or commissioning much of its programming. “We don’t have to clear the rights, so we can exploit the content. Our ‘preditors’ [producers/editors] are always working on what can be used on different platforms, including mobile,” she said.

She said that there is so much extra footage available for programs like Meerkat, or “jaws and claws” content like “amazing animal chase and kill scenes.”

Distributors and viewers can also expect to see more HD VOD content from Discovery, TLC, Science and Animal Planet in the months to come, according to Glashow.