Just nine days after finishing his stint as CEO of Crown Media, the parent of the Hallmark Channel, longtime media maven Henry Schleiff was named president and general manager of ID: Investigation Discovery, the former Discovery Times Channel. Shortly after his new position was announced last week, Schleiff talked with Multichannel News senior finance editor Mike Farrell about what led him to his new network and what direction the channel could take.
MCN: Tell me about your new gig.
Henry Schleiff: I looked around to see where would be the ideal spot, not only ideal for me, but the ideal spot.
I had a very simple formula and I’ll tell you what it was: Let me find great people that I like to be around, that I respect, that I think are fun, that are lively. That automatically eliminated a lot, as you can imagine, in this universe.
Is there anybody who is quicker, smarter, a better guy than [Discovery Communications CEO David] Zaslav? A guy that has truly transformed Discovery Communications in two and a half years? It looks like the people here are really, really good.
Secondly, I do better in areas where I think you need a brand. Give me a brand. On a superficial level, the company [Discovery] is the No. 1 nonfiction media company in the world. Add to that, at least from my own passion, an emphasis on investigation, justice what have you. So I said, “Man, this little ID network is looking pretty good.” Then I began to watch it.
The third thing, after people and brand, give me programming that I can get my arms around. This is a network that truly, truly is Court TV on speed. It shines a klieg light on the injustices of the justice system.
What I can possibly do is get more people to sample it. That’s hard, as you know, in a noisy universe, and especially when you’re in a digital world where you’re essentially existing in the witness protection program. We’re channel 2050, with people afraid to go past 100 because otherwise you press the wrong button and you lose your dog.
MCN: So how do you get more people to sample the network? Will the focus be on increasing distribution (ID is in 54 million homes), ratings, both?
HS: All of the above. They are all inexorably intertwined. You have to increase distribution and with distribution comes greater sampling and with sampling comes better ratings and with ratings comes better revenue. They’re all together. You can’t do one without the other, and by the way, if you don’t do one, than the others don’t fall into place. That’s the hard part and it kind of helps if you have something to sell, something to watch.
MCN: When you were at Court TV, you did a pretty aggressive advertising campaign to promote awareness of the channel. Any plans to do the same at ID?
HS: It’s always subject to, quote, resources and I would say that any network I’ve ever been with and any network executive will tell you, there is never enough. There’s never enough money or off-channel promotion or what have you. The one thing that makes Discovery Communications unique in my experience is not only is there an obvious visceral collegial environment here, but you see it on air [through] cross-channel promotion for other networks. I see spots for ID on Science Channel, I see them on Discovery, I’ve seen them across the board and conversely. That’s something I never had as a truly independent at Hallmark or even at Court TV. The best place to catch people is when they are watching cable television. That’s a huge leg up.
MCN: Any plan to migrate to scripted fare?
HS: I’ve been here about five minutes; I’ve been impressed with what is on the air I think part of the calling card here is reality, reality. We all know that the bar or the level of creating a successful one-hour series is not only the creation of the series but the marketing and attention to it. Everything is up for exploration; everything is up, no pun intended, for investigation. I want the benefit of Clark’s [Bunting, Schleiff’s boss and president and GM of Discovery Emerging Networks] thinking, I want the benefit of his team that has been so successful. [Executive vice president of Discovery Emerging Networks] Debbie Myers [has done] just a fabulous job in some of the series that are on the air now — Shift, Dallas DNA, I’m so excited about this Paula Zahn magazine show [On the Case With Paula Zahn] we have coming up, we’ll talk more about it at [the Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles]. So I want the benefit of Debbie’s thinking, I want the benefit of Clark’s thinking. I’m a good editor. Let me hear their ideas and maybe I can edit them and everything else is up for discussion.
MCN: There are a lot of similarities to Court.
HS: But I think it’s Court 2.0. TruTV has an affiliate obligation to continue to carry the trials, otherwise they lose their affiliation, and we have the luxury of not having to carry those trials. That’s a big thing. TruTV is virtually two different networks still, and we struggled with that. Here we have the benefit of literally being one thing 24 hours a day.
This is a very young and vibrant organization, Discovery. Now under David, it’s willing to throw the dice and try different things. That makes any organization successful. That’s part of what I’m looking forward to here.