Worldly Wise: European Investments Pay Off for DCI

NEW YORK — International business should account for more than half of Discovery Communications’ total revenue for the first time this year, and the programmer is continuing to push hard overseas, launching channels in several new markets.

Discovery Communications generated about $2.5 billion in international revenue last year, or about 45% of total 2013 sales of $5.5 billion. Launches of networks like TLC in the U.K. and The Netherlands last year helped drive sales and viewership.

DCI CEO David Zaslav said that with the closing of two recent acquisitions — sports network Eurosport International and Scandinavian broadcaster SBS Nordic — the company expects even more growth.

“We feel like we’re just getting started,” Zaslav said at a Discovery Networks International breakfast prior to the parent’s upfront presentation on April 3.

“Eight years ago we sold our pan-European and pan- Asian content with mostly feeds out of the U.K.,” he said. “Today we have local teams all over the world. We have local teams on the ground selling our content and local teams meeting with distributors and local teams building content and launching new brands.”

Zaslav said Discovery’s early commitment to the international business — it began investing outside of the U.S. in the early 1990s, buying channels and building a presence — is paying off as TV viewership has grown.

He said international viewership has risen 20% or better over the past several years, enabling the company to pump additional resources into building brands and launching additional channels. TLC is launching later this month in Germany, and ID Extra, the international version of ID: Investigation Discovery, the No. 2 network for women in the U.S., launched to 5 million homes in Central and Eastern Europe on April 1. It will add 2 million more homes in those regions in July.

Discovery Networks International president JB Perrette said hopes are high for ID Extra in the new regions, given its recent international success. Since 2013 the channel has increased its ratings outside the U.S. by about 70%, he said.

While international versions of popular U.S. programs and networks are still a mainstay for the overseas business, DNI executive vice president and chief content officer Luis Silberwasser said original content is playing an increasingly important role, and some content that got its start internationally is making the move to the U.S.

Case in point: You Have Been Warned, a show developed in the U.K. that counts down the top 20 relevant YouTube videos and taps top experts to explain the science behind them. The show, one of the top series internationally, began airing on Discovery Science Channel in the U.S. in 2013 under the title Outrageous Acts of Science and is now one of the top three shows on that network.

Silberwasser also said DNI is experimenting with the way it packages and markets programming. For example, in Poland, DNI bundled the season four premiere of popular U.S. reality series Gold Rush with other gold-related programs, including scripted miniseries Klondike (set in the 1890s), on one night. “[They] achieved 1 million viewers on premier night,” Silberwasser said. “And season four [of Gold Rush] out-delivered season three by 50%.”