Discovery Analysis - March 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 /March 2010 vs. March 2009  (% Change)




Monday 8-11pm




Tuesday 8-11pm




Wednesday 8-11pm




Thursday 8-11pm




Friday 8-11pm




Saturday 8-11pm




Sunday 8-11pm




MTWTFSS 8-11pm




Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

LIFE brought exactly that to the prime time schedule in March.  Overall numbers were up in every demo, male and female across the board versus last year.  Best month we've seen for the network since last June when DEADLIEST CATCH's season finale aired.  Most important, it stopped a five month long streak of monthly losses.  Two other stats of note: women made up 37% of the A18-49 and A25-54 audience in March, the highest proportion in almost two years.  And, median age was up again this month.  Oldest median age we've seen since our tracking began 3.5 years ago. 

Story of the month was LIFE.  The BBC production was the channel's strongest premiere in quite some time.  On the back of a massive marketing push, including simulcasts across every network in the DCI portfolio, LIFE drew big numbers on the Sunday opening night.  The second was down slightly, a normal fade in week two of any major event series.  Overall, the first two weeks of the series filled the top telecast slots for the month by a wide margin, and drove Sundays up 70% and more over last year.  In fact, the series overperformed the rest of the network by such a large margin that it accounts for the entire year on year increase and then some.  Take LIFE out of the equation and the channel falls about 20%.  Now that's an influential series.  Three more weeks in April for network programmers too look forward to in April.

After LIFE, the rest of the schedule was mixed.  First two weeks of the month followed the pattern of the last few months, struggling to find a footing.  The back half of month was the beneficiary of the halo effect coming out of the aforementioned BBC series.  Veteran series DIRTY JOBS and MYTHBUSTERS rose over last year, the latter series by as much as 20% in some of the demos. 

AMERICAN LOGGERS featured several premieres and led Friday nights to some nice increases.  MAN VS WILD was limited to a single Thursdday stack, falling well below year ago numbers.  Looks like Bear needs some new episodes. 

Single hour one-offs dominated the bulk of the schedule.  A Monday pair focused on astronomy, specifically the moon and Hubble, fell way below network averages.  Another Monday hour on the WWII sinking of the USS Indianapolis was slightly better, hitting just about average for the 25-54 group, but not well with the younger 18-49 guys.  IS IT POSSIBLE was well postioned out of MYTHBUSTERS, holding onto most, if not all, of the core demo from its lead-in. 

A stack of survival themed premieres didn't pull much of an audience on a Thursday night.  An encore of on the 9/11 flight that fought back struggled.  The lead out premiere of a quick special on the underwear bomber didn't do a whole lot better.  A couple of Sunday premieres, SUPERSWARMS and WHO FRAMED JESUS, didn't grab much of audience early in the month.  Finally, a repeat of an hour of RIVER MONSTERS, borrowed from sister network Animal Planet, grabbed a very solid number coming out of LIFE.  Highest rated program on the network not titled LIFE in fact.  


The last few months haven't been so great, but this is 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 returns to the channel after a six year hiatus and he's bringing management of diginet Science Channel with him.  Too early to know what impact the change will have editorially, but 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.  Trade speculation has Discovery leading the bidding for Mark Burnett's reality series with Governor Sarah Palin, a ratings play if there ever was one. 

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 are pending.  Also pending is a new Marketing chief. 

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.  Continuing series included DEADLIEST CATCH, DIRTY JOBS, MAN VS. WILD, MYTHBUSTERS, STORM CHASERS, and THE COLONY.