Discovery Analysis - September 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 /October 2010 vs. October 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

Big numbers in July and August fell down dramatically in September.  Audiences were off 25-30% from August alone.  Annual comparisons don't fare a whole lot better.  Every demo and age break,and both genders were down there as well.  Median age returned to pre-summer levels, but is still one of the youngest out there.   A small silver lining in a very tough month.

Let's start with two of the better stories.  Friday night, loaded with survival themed content is up 20% from year ago.  It's slowly becoming one of the stronger nights on the schedule.  MAN, WOMAN, WILD is leading the way with 9pm premieres.  BEYOND SURVIVAL WITH LES STROUD at 10pm follows with above average numbers at 10pm, although it dips measurably from the 9pm lead-in.  However, there are some cautions still out there for the night.  Numbers fell almost 20% from August for both series, despite all new episodes.  We're guessing the halo impact from the rest of the schedule and the rise of broadcast late in the month.

The other bright spot is Thursday, the only other night to see a year on year increase.  Although it finishes slightly below net averages, the night is heading in the direction.  Interesting to note that the numbers have improved without a single premiere or even a regular series.  A mix of inventory repeats from crime to deadly animals filling the night did the trick.

That's about it for the good news.  Running quickly through the nights, Monday was off 20% plus from last year.  Mini-stacks filled the month with decent numbers out of DUAL SURVIVIAL in the first week.  DIRTY JOBS and SURVIVING THE CUT underperformed in later weeks.

Tuesday was off double digits as it tries to rebuild after DEADLIEST CATCH wrapped.  Premiere runs for SWORD and THE COLONY were both down from last year, although fairly level with August.

Wednesdays hung in there from 2009, but also suffered a precipitious drop from August.  New episodes of MAN VS WILD and SURVIVING THE CUT anchored the night.  MAN VS WILD was down more than 10% from last year.  SURVIVING THE CUT was far worse, falling more than 40% from its debut in August. 

Saturday and Sunday featured the usual mix of repeats, one-offs, and mini-stacks.  Both nights were down 30% from August and 10-20% from last year.  Audiences were steady across the month, albeit at much lower levels than in the past.  Doesn't appear that broadcast premieres were to blame here. 

A very tough month.  Big question is what's on the horizon.  Formal announcements have been minimal at this point.  We're not seeing a whole lot of new content for October or November.  Be prepared for a bumpy ride ahead. 


After a strong summer, numbers have been going in the opposite direction.  However, 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 came 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.