UPFRONT & CENTER: Discovery's Agency of Change

Discovery Communications has a solution for cost-conscious advertisers this upfront season: Let us make the ads for you.

The Silver Spring, Md.-based cable giant is pitching clients on the services of its in-house production arm, Discovery Studios, offering to create spots for advertisers who are trying to squeeze more from their ad dollars.

General Motors, for one, has already called upon the studio to make up to eight 60-120-second spots that focus on the automotive company's eco-friendly efforts and will begin running on Discovery's new eco-focused network, Planet Green, when it launches in June. The spots do not bear Discovery branding or talent.

“What clients are trying to do is break through with their creative,” says Joe Abruzzese, president of ad sales for Discovery Communications. “We said, 'Why don't we go in there and help make the creative for clients? This is going to be a fun thing to work on.'”

At a time when digital outlets have given advertisers more options that ever for where and how best to target their dollars, programmers like Discovery are offering such services to try to paint themselves as flexible, cooperative partners with their clients' best interests at heart.

A&E is pitching something similar—“blended entertainment” ads that integrate an advertiser's product into short-form content associated with a program. Others, like AMC, are offering advertisers research tools they can use to measure all networks.

Discovery is selling advertisers on the value of in-house-created spots particularly for Planet Green; corporations might need extra help in financing creative for their green initiatives in the face of a prolonged economic recession.

Abruzzese declined to say how much a client would pay the studio to create its content, but said it would be cheaper than a typical agency's fee. Agencies usually charge about 25% on top of the $335,000 it costs to make a 30-second spot or the $500,000 to $800,000 it costs to make a 60-second spot. The studio, which also makes series for Discovery's suite of cable networks, offers advertisers direct contact with producers, as opposed the bureaucracy of advertising agencies, its executives say.


“We're not playing a game of telephone,” says Carole Tomko, president of Discovery Studios. “We have a shorthand with the advertisers by virtue of working with them all year long and they instantly get the kind of content and quality we want to put on the screen.”

Discovery's executives are on the road for a series of major stage presentations entitled “See Us Like Never Before.” Their general pitch is that Discovery's suite of networks program 100% original content at a time when the writers' strike has left broadcasters hamstrung with scripted shows.

Abruzzese and the network GMs will talk about the “knowledge buy” advertisers can make by cobbling together various facets of Discovery programming on TV and online. Under CEO David Zaslav, Discovery drove 12% revenue growth and 30% EBITDA growth in 2007. Networks including TLC and Animal Planet have been retooled. In the coming months, Discovery Home will rebrand as Planet Green and Discovery Health as Oprah's OWN channel.

An auto client, for example, could buy advertising on Discovery Channel's Mythbusters series, throughout Planet Green's TV and online programming, and next to related articles on HowStuffWorks.com, which Discovery bought for $250 million in October 2007.

That site, a Wikipedia competitor, will be a big part of what Discovery will pitch advertisers. CEO Jeff Arnold will talk up Discovery's efforts to populate the site's articles with short-form video from its shows. The site's unique visits have more than doubled, from some 7 million to 15 million per month, since Discovery bought it, according to Omniture.