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Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

How Discovery is positioning for long-term growth with the next generation of fans: Nancy Daniels podcast for CTAM

Nancy Daniels oversees Discovery Channel, Science, and Animal Planet, including day-to-day operations and creative production development.

She shared her thoughts on Discovery’s strategy in a recent podcast interview with CTAM‘s Vicki Lins.


CTAM’s Vicki Lins interviews Nancy Daniels, Chief Brand Officer, Discovery & Factual
(27 minutes, July 13, 2020)


What are your days like as Chief Brand Officer?

  • Broad range of responsibilities
  • Focus is on big picture network strategy
  • And on the details: what shows to greenlight, getting them through development, and on the air
  • Also oversees marketing, digital, social, press- everything that goes into supporting the shows and the network

Recent examples

  • Shark Week– marketing ideas, how to do a marketing shoot during Covid
  • What shows should we be picking up a year from now?
  • How to prep and shoot them?
  • What is our Tik Tok strategy? “It’s an important element of social that we need to take advantage of.”

What did your strategy look like before the pandemic hit and how has the pandemic impacted that strategy?

  • Before: dealing with the changing media landscape, addressing and reacting to the streaming world and cable world, always trying to be ahead of that
  • After: What are the shows we have in 3Q and 4Q, what are the new shows we can have on in 1Q and 2Q of next year?
  • As soon as the pandemic hit, we went into triage mode:
    • What shows are delivered and ready to go?
    • What just has the post process to finish, and can still make it onto the air?
    • What are the things at risk, have to shut down production, will no longer make it to air?
    • What can we do to get fresh content during a time of uncertainty? What can we shoot at home or in a totally different way?


  • After the Catch is an after show to Deadliest Catch, hosted by Mike Rowe, all done via Zoom
  • Safer at Home with Josh Gates is an after show to Expedition Unknown. It started as 10 minute episodes but it was so popular it has been expanded to hour long episodes

Entering a new phase of Covid

  • Late June- things are opening back up in different states at different levels
    • What can we get back into production?
    • What are appropriate protocols to have in place?
    • How are we protecting everyone involved?
    • How can we get everyone back to work?
  • Slowly and carefully reopening things- small crews, remote locations
  • Every day and every week there are decisions to make about what to do and where to go next
  • Opportunity to really bond with your team during these times

CTAM has found that viewers are really embracing the new authentic content they are seeing, for example public figures in their homes.  Do you see some of this sticking as you move forward… a different type of production gaining traction as a result of the pandemic?

  • Yes, it is important to challenge the team to think about what they’ve learned, what lessons they can take with them moving forward
  • We will question everything!

Thoughts and insights in the changing landscape of streaming, and different forms of media consumption.  How do you keep your brands relevant and plan for what’s next?

  • Fans have an affinity for the brand, but you have to make the brand relevant to younger audiences who didn’t grow up watching Discovery content
  • Important to have social media strategies- Tik Tok, Instagram, working with well-known YouTubers whose ethos line up with Discovery
  • Example: Working with Mark Rober, a well-known YouTuber on Shark Week
  • TV Everywhere apps like DiscoveryGo are great, but it’s really important to integrate with well-known figures in the YouTube and other social media space, and to build relationships with those people
  • Example: big show around the launch of the SpaceX Rocket
    • Science channel had been following and documenting over the last year behind the scenes of SpaceX, Bowing, and working with NASA, to see who would be the first privately owned company to launch someone into space
    • Discovery covered it live for both Science and Discovery Channel
    • Guests included Mark Rober, Adam Savage (Mythbusters), Mike Massimino (former NASA astronaut)
    • Partnered with Tik Tok and aired live feed on their platform. Even though it was a longer story format, it was very popular and did well for them

Content is clearly front and center in drawing people to Discovery and connecting with viewer passion, but in the vast landscape of content how do you go about connecting with consumers?

  • Cannot adequately state how difficult it is to launch a new show in this new environment
  • If you know there is going to be like-minded programming, that’s what you have to use, have to keep super-serving that audience
  • Example: spin-offs of Gold Rush (number one show on Discovery), use figures that have already been on the original show, so they have an attached audience
  • Nearly impossible to break through and create a show with no known faces

There is a tremendous opportunity for content providers to attract new viewers.  Talk a little about reaching the people who don’t know what to expect from your programming and how to get their attention?

  • Biggest moment for that was the Space Launch. We went Live for five hours over two days, more coverage than anyone else
  • Broke ratings records for Discovery and Science
  • Huge opportunity to gather promo hours and reach new eyeballs

What is your social media strategy to take that experience and break it down into short form content?

  • Serengeti: strategy was to use Shark Week as a launching point because we get new viewers
  • Social media strategy varies depending on the platform, i.e. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Programming and Development Pipeline

  • Right now focusing on escapist programming
  • How can Discovery bring the world to their viewers while also providing an escape from the bad news of the world?

The Outlook for Cable Channels

  • The cable landscape became too big and bloated over the last 20 years, and now it is being corrected and realigned
  • It’s “Iterate or die!”

(Notes by Becca Wallance)


Discovery’s Scale Disadvantage

  • Discovery’s strategy is framed by its status as a leading ‘legacy’ content provider.
  • It is competing with massively larger tech platforms and streamers as captured in this chart (early 2020) of relative market caps of the players.
  • The gulf has widened since as Apple and Amazon passed the US$Trillion valuation during COVID.

Brand Struggle

  • For decades now, Discovery has struggled to reconcile its legacy brand centered on credible and informative factual entertainment with a program strategy that dumbed down its content to deliver a competitive audience.
  • The challenge for Discovery is that viewers are leaving the channels for the streaming platforms, where brand consistency is an advantage.
  • That leaves Discovery with the key challenge of “un-muddling” its brand for the new era.

Final Thought: Another Look at Scale

  • Legacy channels like Discovery remain high volume buyers of programs.
  • Each well-distributed channel buys between 200-600 hours a year.
  • And there are dozens of networks who buy unscripted programs at this volume.
  • Thats a multi-billion dollar channels’ pipeline that is a multiple of the scale of Netflix‘s buying operation.
  • Many established producers and newcomers focus on targeting Netflix, when their efforts are better expended across the combined market opportunity of legacy channels and streamers.
  • Read my new Sweet Spots 2021 guide for more information on what 32 U.S. channels want, and what they pay!