Last year we all understood the obvious -- it was going to be an Upfront unlike any other. No in-person events, few virtual presentations, all business transacted remotely, etc. Twelve months later some of that still holds; though virtual presentations are on the rise. But even without the sweeping changes brought on by the pandemic, there is a new set of reasons why the 2021 Upfront will be something completely different. Due in part to the pandemic, but also to general advances in technology and consumer behavior, this is the year that ad-supported streaming services have finally surged to the forefront. Recent developments at Discovery, especially the successful launch five months ago of discovery+, typify the new world order.
"All of us, everywhere, have had to get super creative with how we have performed our jobs and run our lives over the last year," said Nancy Daniels (top right), Chief Brand Officer, Discovery and Factual. "We're definitely approaching this Upfront in the same way. What I find kind of incredible is the amount of content we've been able to get up and running over the last year. We're ready to go out and yell about it to the ad community.
"It's been really invigorating for all of us to be a part of creating a new way for people to interact with our content and a new way for our whole ad sales team to interact with their clients," she continued. "We have so many new things to talk about, new ways of connecting with people."
"The headlines are all discovery+ because we just launched," added Scott Kohn (top left), Executive Vice President, Discovery Ad Sales, noting that Daniels and her team have done an extraordinary job developing an ever-increasing amount of content for linear (Discovery, Science and Animal Planet) as well as streaming, which provides many more opportunities for advertisers to partner with them. "One-plus-one is equaling way more than two," he said.
When it comes to the increase in development, "the term we've used for the last year is 'platform agnostic,'" Daniels explained. "Let's develop the best show and decide which is the best platform for the show to go on. Should it be on linear first? Should it be concurrent with discovery+? Should it be a linear exclusive? Should it be a discovery+ exclusive? There are a lot of conversations that go into that.
"I'm seeing things that maybe didn't work as well as a linear play but are really finding an audience [on streaming] and really helping with the value of discovery+ as a brand," she added. "Every day, every week, every month that we have discovery+ up and running we're learning more and more about how people interact with our content."
"We want our clients to reach their target consumers at the right time in the right place on the right platform," Kohn said. "What used to be on linear only can now be on both. We're able to add reach; to add new people who are going to see our clients' messaging in commercials and custom content we're producing across many platforms. It's probably one of the most lean-forward experiences [we've had]."
In fact, Discovery "has always been known for having lean-forward programming," Kohn noted. "People sitting shotgun on boats on Deadliest Catch or in the desert with survivors on Naked and Afraid. With a brand like Discovery and discovery+ we have even more engaged consumers and a very valuable audience for our advertisers."
"What's most important is, what are the clients' goals?" he continued. "They might have different goals for putting their messaging on linear for a specific audience they want to reach. I think the best partnerships and the best deals that we do cross all platforms. We've seen [programs] start on discovery + and end up on linear and vice versa. What we do and what Nancy's team does is listen to what our advertisers want and listen to what our viewers want and develop toward that, because we want the biggest audience that we can get."
"What we all know, and it's kind of a given, is that with a streaming platform you're more likely to get a younger audience," Daniels added. Indeed, the audience for discovery+ is approximately 15 years younger than Discovery's typical linear audience.
Developing specifically for discovery+ has given Daniels and her team greater flexibility. "It's been very liberating," she said. "The whole idea of telling a producer not to worry about the clock … just deliver the best version of an episode, whether it's 22 minutes or 25 minutes or 28. That's freeing and exciting to do. We're definitely experimenting with some more edgy shows, younger-skewing shows, shows that would have been a tough go on the traditional linear network."
Daniels and Kohn agree that the company's annual tent-pole events – especially Shark Week on Discovery and Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet -- bring their teams even closer together with the work they do. "They're just so brand definitional," Daniels said. "We get our biggest audiences and our most diverse audiences with them. They're both like national holidays. They're pop culture phenomena. And there are so many opportunities for Scott to bring in clients that feel organic, feel right, where everybody's happy at the end of the day."
The 2021 Puppy Bowl ran on discovery+, where it did well without drawing viewers away from its telecast on Animal Planet. Overall, Puppy Bowl ratings were up versus 2020, even taking discovery+ out of the equation.
"We learned a lot from Puppy Bowl, which was in week four or five in the life of discovery+," Daniels recalled. "All boats rise. We had better ratings on linear than we had the last couple of years … and we had this whole other audience on discovery+, too. We looked at that and thought, that was one day. We can do this across all of Shark Week coming up this summer. We do have more hours for this year's Shark Week than we've ever had in the 33 years of doing it. There will be a unique experience for people who want to interact with it on discovery+, but you'll still get everything you want out of Shark Week on Discovery Channel.
"We didn't know going into this how this would go," she continued. "One thing we knew from Discovery Go was that a hit was a hit. One platform did not cannibalize the other; in fact, they lifted each other up. But to see that play out continuously with discovery+ has been totally eye-opening. It's a great thing for ad sales clients, too, to know that they can tailor the audience they are looking for."
"It's really about developing content that we can bring to our partners," Kohn added. "Whether it's Shark Week or Puppy Bowl or partnering with one of our signature series or a special that airs once or twice, such as the live space launch events that Nancy and her team have produced for Science. As [the importance of] STEM [increases] clients are looking to be associated with that, and we're one of the only places that can make that happen."
"We need Scott and his team to understand everything we are doing," Daniels concluded. "Why we're excited about a show. Why we're picking it up. What the strategy is. They have to be able to understand it, love it and evangelize it, right? To be able to let clients know why it's so special. It's so important that we are working together closely, so they understand the method behind the madness and can really translate it out in the world."
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