Upfronts 2016: Discovery Flips TLC Script With Tyler Perry

Discovery Communications is pushing deeper into scripted programming, with TLC working with Tyler Perry, whose series have helped turn around OWN, its joint venture with Oprah Winfrey.

At an upfront presentation in Chicago last week and a press briefing in New York Thursday, Discovery, best known for its reality programming, announced it will also take scripted looks at the stories of the Unabomber on Discovery Channel and O.J. Simpson on Investigation Discovery.

Working from a script most large programmers are employing, Discovery also detailed its plans to use data to create more effective advertising as part of its One Discovery offering.

"We're connecting our fans with your brands," Discovery ad sales president Joe Abruzzese told a packed house at media agency Spark. One Discovery will "put your brands at the center of every consumer touchpoint."

Paul Guyardo, Discovery's chief commercial officer, said Discovery can be "a powerful marketing platform to you and your clients across TV, digital, branded entertainment, Web native, audience delivery product, social media VR, talent and custom production."

He added that Discovery Go, the company's streaming app, is delivering an incremental audience with 50% of the streams coming from 18-to-34 year olds. With some TLC shows, between 60% and 70% of the streams are viewers from that millennial demographic, he said.

Discovery Engage, the company's ad sales data platform, houses high powered analytics for targeting, optimization and measurement to deliver greater effectiveness and impact for your ads, Keith Kazerman, head of advertising sales product strategy and development, told the Spark staff.

For example, if an auto company wants to reach a target audience in the market to buy a new car, Discovery would marshal data from Experian on potential car buyers then match those individuals with actual TV viewers using Nielsen respondent level data.

"The Discovery Engage optimization engine utilizes sophisticated algorithms to find the best placements of your ads across our portfolio of networks to reach that specific target audience with the right message at that right moment," Kazerman said.

In the car example, Engage delivers a detailed and transparent schedule that pinpoints which networks, dayparts and programs that target audience is likely to view during the campaign.

"Not only will we guarantee we reach your target audience and measure impressions, but we'll go one step further. We're one of the very few content companies that has access to set top box data, which provides us the ability to deliver true ROI measurability" and determine the brand lift or sales lift generated by the campaign.

Kazerman said Discovery is in the marketplace developing a small number of partnerships with agencies and clients to launch Discovery Engage. "These first movers will partner with us to shape the future of the use of data and technology in advertising," he said.

Discovery's networks also talked about upcoming programming strategies.

TLC is getting into the scripted business with Perry's series Too Close to Home, about a young woman working in Washington who gets caught up in a scandal and has to return to the small town where she grew up. The series is expected to premiere in the second half of 2016.

TLC is also getting back into the home category. One show features designer Nate Berkus, his husband Jeremiah Brent and their daughter Poppy as they renovate their own home.

TLC will be launching a new brand campaign using the theme "I am," to highlight unique individuals' different values and support them against bullies and critics.

Investigation Discovery also unveiled a new slogan: Real People. Real Stories.

The network, which grew last year to be No. 1 with women 25-54, will air 650 hours of original content next season, with program premieres on 360 nights.

Jumping into the suddenly popular O.J. genre, ID plans to air its version, executive produced by Martin Sheen, called Hard Evidence: OJ Is Innocent, which takes the point of view that Simpson didn't commit the crime and everything we thought we knew about this story was wrong, said general manager Kevin Bennett.

ID has also sent investigators to join law enforcement in Chillicothe, Ohio, where six women went missing and four have turned up dead. The case is ongoing, which means the story could change right up until the six-part series, The Vanishing Women, premieres on June 6.

In addition, ID will air a series of scripted movies that tell stories ripped from the headlines.

Discovery, which will air the scripted series Harley and the Davidsons, about the beginnings of the famed motorcycle company, is also working on Manifesto, about the FBI profiler who caught Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The series is produced by Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti's Trigger Street.

Science Channel is bringing back its Punkin Chunkin special after a few years in the patch and searching for a new generation of mythbusters with the series The Search for the Next MythBusters.

The network will also take viewers on a voyage to the largest planet with Mission Jupiter.

Animal Planet goes to the dogs with a series, Life of Dogs, to the vet with Texas Vets, and the Bronx Zoo with The Zoo.

Discovery is also offering native digital programming with two brands that target millennials.

One is Seeker, which aims to feed curiosity that helps viewers experience, observe and explore their world, Suzanne Kolb, executive VP and general manager of Discovery Digital Networks told Spark in Chicago.

The other brand is SourceFed Studio, which is more focued on comedy, including parodies of Discovery shows like Naked and Afraid.

"This is content engineered to succeed across all digital and social platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat," and a soon to launch updated version of seeker.com, Kolb said.

Discovery's production facilities can create customized branded content "designed for the right platform at the right moment to maximize the effect," she said.

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.