Discovery CEO David Zaslav says the challenges posed by COVID-19 have brought about an epiphany in terms of production logistics and costs, with viewers embracing lower-priced versions of staple shows.
Many of the company’s shows, especially on networks like Food Network and Cooking Channel, have taken on a decidedly home-spun quality out of necessity. In addition to costing one-fifth to one-tenth of studio shoots, the pandemic aesthetics have resonated with audiences and will likely to endure past quarantine.
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“We’re producing a huge amount of content where the family itself is shooting it on a GoPro or an iPhone,” Zaslav said in an online appearance at MoffettNathanson’s Media & Communications Conference. “It actually feels significantly more authentic” than the typical setup.
“Why are we dragging everyone to a studio?” Zaslav asks. “Let’s shoot it in the home. The cost is dramatically less and the audience is lighting up on social media.”
So far, Zaslav added, “the audience is going with it.” He cited Guy Fieiri, who has been shown picking up meals instead of settling into a booth or chatting with chefs in the kitchen. “We’re kind of excited about the fact that we’re in the moment.”
As far as advertising — Zaslav’s specialty — he said the marketplace in recent weeks has seen some “green shoots” in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The U.S. is doing “significantly better” than Europe and is starting to see scatter market picking up, Zaslav added.
While overall costs are getting a major rethink, Zaslav also said having staff on the ground across the world (Discovery reaches more than 200 countries) enabled the company to take action early in the pandemic. “We were repositioning this company months before other U.S. companies,” he said. In Italy, for example, 150 Discovery employees gave the company front-line insights into a key international territory as the pandemic’s first wave swept across the planet.
Zaslav weighed in on the tension in the sports area of the pay-TV bundle, decrying the decision to keep charging customers for sports fees even in the absence of sports as “un-American.” He added, “You don’t pay for something you don’t get.”
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