Discovery Analysis - August 2010



* Bold denotes programming change


Schedule has shifted from a consistent slate of series to one that features several nights mixed with single hours, series repeats, and specials.  Tuesdays have been the anchor night of late, using DEADLIEST CATCH as a springtime anchor with other series (SWORDS, COLONY) to follow.  Wednesdays have alternated MYTHBUSTERS and MAN VS WILD as the anchor.  Thursdays have featured a variety of series, including half hours, although none have settled there permanently.  Mondays and Fridays offer a variety of series repeats and loose titles with little to no consistency on a week to week basis.  Saturdays tend to push mini-stacks of the best performing series throughout the week.  Sunday recently returned to its roots, becoming the home for premiere specials and highlighted encores.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison /September 2010 vs. September 2009  (% Change)




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Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

August brings mostly good news as the Summer comes to an end.  Audiences are up in total households and all demos over last year.  Target adults were up nicely for 18-49 and slightly for 25-54.  Median age was down 9%, hitting its lowest point two years.  Thanks Shark Week.  Monthly numbers were down from July by as much as 20% in the demos.  With July featuring the big finale for DEADLIEST CATCH, it's understandable to come back down a bit in July.

Top story of the month is Shark Week, the summer event we've all come to know and love for over two decades.  Network press calls it the most viewed Shark Week ever, drawing over 30M viewers this year.  Most of the Top 20 list this month consists of programs from the week, including 9 of the top 10.  Strongest program was ULTIMATE AIR JAWS, the kickoff program for the week. 

Comparing Shark Week to recent years, it fares well.  This year's edition was up 9% over last year in total viewers and a whopping 20% in target adults.  Looking back two years, it's on par for total viewers and up roughly 10% for adults.  Credit the opening night this year for driving those increases.  More than half of the bump stems from that single night. 

THE COLONY's second season return debuted this month with above average numbers for the month.  Series was up slightly over last year's performance.  Opening week was the strongest followed by week #2.  Audiences did fall off measurably the later in the month, a trend that raises eyebrows if it continues into September.

SWORDS ON THE LINE also returned to the schedule this month.  The post Shark Week debut, taking over the DEADLIEST CATCH time slot on Tuesdays, was less than stellar.  Numbers improved in the 2nd and 3rd week, doubling the season premiere in both adult demos.  Still, it barely nudged up against network averages for the month.  This one's going to need a much stronger September to give it any chance of a 3rd season.

SURVIVING THE CUT, yet another premieres series, launched in the Wednesday 10pm slot.  Debut week was solid.  Week #2 saw audiences fall off 25-30%.  Focusing on a military training and boot camp, it's no surprise that there's a heavy male skew, roughly 2:1. 

PITCHMEN was also back this month, but it appears the loss of Billy Mays was too great.  Numbers were very weak, underperforming net averages by as much as 40% in the target demos. 

Friday night means survival on Discovery and that appears to be a good thing.  The night is up over 50% in both target demos over last year.  DUAL SURVIVAL is leading the charge.  MAN, WOMAN, WILD, is lagging well behind.  Newcomer BEYOND SURVIVAL WITH LES STROUD didn't come out of the gate very well on the final Friday, but let's see what happens in subsequent episodes.


The last couple months have brought some upward movement in the numbers.  It's still one of the best brands in the business.  The most households, the widest global reach, the greatest prestige.  They'll commission it, co-produce it, acquire it, license it, merchandise it, take it around the name it.  However, the bulk of the effort has shifted to global commissions.  CEO David Zaslav's desire to push product outwards to DCI's regions has come to fruition the last couple of years and we expect it will continue in full force in the coming months.

With 2010 comes a new year and another round of new management. Longtime veteran Clark Bunting returned to the channel after a six year hiatus and he's bringing management of diginet Science Channel with him.  Expect change.  Discovery's public announcements have emphasized a desire to strengthen the core brand.  Translate that into a return to the high profile specials that have gone missing the last few years. Still, be selective when pitching just the brand.  Ratings still pay the bills and they're not going to compromise on that front.

Personnel changes have been expedient and numerous.  New heads of Current Series and Specials have been named.  A new Programming head has been brought over from one of the digital channels.  The Los Angeles development team has departed and replacements were just announced.  A new Marketing chief is the latest addition, along with a new COO. 

It's fairly easy to predict a commissioning strategy that will key on timeslot needs more so than the past.  Keep an eye on CU's grid for insights on what timeslots prove to have the largest appetite. It's probably safe to assume that Science Channel will start to operate more openly as a feeder network to the mothership.  If getting into Discovery proves a challenge, try Science.  You might find it to be an easier route to the flagship.

Budgets are in the $250,000+ range per hour for prime for the flagship.  Series can be  $150k or more per half-hour.  It varies according to their level of financing, international interest, whether they commission it or not, and a multitude of other negotiable and non-negotiable factors. 

At the Discovery Upfront, the channel announced an ambitious slate of new programming for the 2010-2011 season.  Among the highlights were the specials CURIOUSITY: THE QUESTIONS OF LIFE, HUMAN PLANET, EARTH FROM SPACE, REIGN OF THE DINOSAURS, THE RISING: REBUILDING GROUND ZERO, ENGINEERING THE IMPOSSIBLE, and the return of SHARK WEEK.  New series included WORST CASE SCENARIO, hosted by Bear Grylls, and CONSTRUCTION INTERVENTION, both of which premiered in 2nd Quarter, 2010, well ahead of the actual upfront season.  Continuing series included DEADLIEST CATCH, DIRTY JOBS, MAN VS. WILD, MYTHBUSTERS, STORM CHASERS, and THE COLONY.