Challenged By Cord Cutting, The Discovery Channel Seeks Redemption In The Wake Of Honey Boo Boo

from the core-competency dept

In the quest for ad dollars and viewer eyeballs over the last decade, there’s a laundry list of cable channels that veered off course, deciding that the quick and easy money made from airing shocking garbage was worth more than having a respected brand. And that worked, for a while. The Weather Channel began airing shows about gold prospectors. The History Channel started airing — whatever the hell this is. And The Discovery Channel made a small fortune by airing shows like Honey Boo Boo, highlighting assorted nitwits in various stages of mental and verbal incontinence.

But in the last year or two with the rise of cord cutting, things have been changing. For example, veering away from its core mission started to hurt The Weather Channel badly. Not only were customers looking for the actual god-damned weather now heading to online options, but cable operators started dropping the channel from their lineups, arguing that the dreck being served up wasn’t worth the cost of admission. After some whining and scattered hissy fits, The Weather Channel finally announced it needed to return to its core focus: the weather (and weathermen standing around idiotically in said weather).

The Discovery Channel also appears to have come to something vaguely resembling its senses. The channel announced recently that it has realized the error of its ways (ie putting sensationalist tripe above brand quality) and will begin trying to redeem its image and brand in the wake of reality television:

“One day we just came in and looked at each other and said, ‘You know, no more bearded guys in the kitchen with f—ing pigs running through the living room,'”? Discovery head David Zaslav, the highest-paid chief executive in the United States, said one recent afternoon in his eighth-floor office in Manhattan. “Let’s get back to who we really are. We?re about satisfying curiosity. Let’s forget about the ratings right now and let’s chase what the brand is at its best.”

As an obvious sign of the apocalypse, MTV executives are even insisting that the channel will focus on a little something called music in 2016:

A big reason for all of this soul searching is the rise of Internet video and the corresponding dip in ratings. Tired of bi-annual rate hikes and the fact that consumers pay for 189 channels but only actually watch 17, consumers are driving a fundamental shift in the way video content is consumed. Soon, individual channels will either be offered a la carte or as part of limited channel packs included in so-called “skinny bundles.” Channels like Discovery are worried that under this new paradigm, low-quality fare you “put on just to have something on” won’t past muster. So they’re returning to quality:

“To distinguish itself, Discovery has doubled down on its old-school core of natural history, animal conservation and adventure specials. The media giant tapped John Hoffman, an HBO veteran known for rigorous looks at American obesity and Alzheimer’s disease, to become its new boss of documentaries, with the mandate to ignore ratings and shoot for big talkers with award potential and strong reviews.”

And while it’s entirely possible that cord cutters and cord trimmers still want to watch garbage, the belief is that a return to quality in a specific area of expertise is going to be the only way to stand out among an ocean of sameness. There were 409 original scripted series in 2015, double that of 2009. And in an era when consumers will have more power than ever, HBO, Netflix, and Amazon have all shown that focusing on the quality of your original programming really does matter again. Hopefully, this is an early indication that our long, dark, Honey Boo Boo nightmare may soon be over.

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Comments on “Challenged By Cord Cutting, The Discovery Channel Seeks Redemption In The Wake Of Honey Boo Boo”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Uh, small point. The Weather Channel’s “Prospectors” is not about gold miners. Instead it’s about miners hunting for gemstones high in the Colorado Rockies. While the weather tie-in is low, on every episode they at least discuss, and show how the severe weather at high altitude is a constantly limiting factor with respect to being able to mine in the mountains.

Jeremy (profile) says:

Discovery went to shit so I get all that sort of content from youtube, how do they intend to compete with the content creators of youtube for my time? I can watch a youtube video in 10 to 15 minutes, and I can do it on my phone in the bathroom.

So how do they hope to honestly get back someone like me as a customer? Because I remember growing up with discovery channel, before it went to shit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A year or so ago, the Mythbusters (Discovery Channel) did a “because the President asked us to” episode.
Last week, it was YouTubers, including the Smarter Every Day guy.
Again similarly to Mythbusters, Smarter Every Day has recently been given a ton of access to NASA; filming from their labs, talking to engineers and astronauts and the Curiosity team.

It must be a heck of a lot easier for NASA and the White House to deal with some dude with a YouTube channel than it is for them to deal with The Discovery Channel. Whether that’s good for the consumer is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly a big shift from where things were a few years ago…

DannyB (profile) says:

Too Late, but Thank You!

It is way, way too late for them to even think I would come back.

To come back, I would have to see what they have now. Not having cable makes that rather difficult. Burnt bridges and all that.

If I want to watch trash, there is YouTube.

If I want great educational content, there is YouTube.

If I want lectures, tutorials, how to’s, there is YouTube.

If I want news there is Google News.

If I want music, there are online streaming services.

If I want to binge watch TV series, there is Netflix. And original series there also.

There is also TED. And Hulu. And PBS. And they all have apps on my smartphone and tablet.

And all of this is available when I want it. Not on your schedule, but on mine. And I can pause it. Or come back tomorrow and watch the rest.

And it doesn’t have people walking into frame all over the content right after a commercial break. And I won’t even bring up commercials.

And it fits my budget.

Now why would I want to come back to Discovery or any other cable channel again?

Oh, but THANK YOU Discovery channel, and other channels, from driving me away from cable. I might not have discovered the fantastic alternatives if it weren’t for your help.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Too Late, but Thank You!

I do think this could be done right. Ie: they could make their shows available via Netflix or even their own service given they practice sane pricing. I know people who love those channels (Discovery/History style ones) and I myself find it interesting at some point (the reality shows are getting annoying, with this I agree). They could even ‘air’ live stuff via streaming, I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard.

Like many said, cable is only needed if you want sports but even this is completely artificial.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Old School

As soon as it went corporate and started making big money it went down the tubes. You could almost tell the adding of girls was a desperate attempt to stay fresh. The first girl was great (with the star tattoos) but I thought Karri was a let down, cute but not tempting enough to keep hormone driven male viewers…but I digress.

OCC suffered the same fate. When it was a threadbare product the show was great since it was about building bikes. Then came the money and the scripts.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Old School

You know Kar’s been there since the beginning, right? She was in the second pilot, so she predates Scottie.

Disclaimer – I was the safety guy for what led to the first pilot (JATO car) which happened during filming for BattleBots S2. Adam and Jamie, and Grant were competitors. Whoda thunk a bunch of drunk/bored robot guys in the Vegas desert screwing around would have led to that?

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re:

Since that crap is actually quite popular with a certain demographic, why not start a channel especially for it?

Trash TV’s lineup could include Honey Boo Boo, Ancient Aliens, Forbidden History, and any other fluff and stuff and nonsense that tickles the fancy of people who think “beer and pizza” is a food group.

ECA (profile) says:


Before cable it was major corps…selling to regional systems..
Then cable TRIED to consolidate this, and ended up into the heap..Selling services.
Regional services almost ALL went independent..Still free to watch, but limited in how many you can get.
Sat came in to fight against CABLE, only 3 companies ever got up in the air, and no REAL competition, except for people in the fringes with little access to cable.
Even NOW cable is in towns and cities, and SAT is FINALLY able to be mobile and almost anyone can get it..

In the OLD DAYS, cable and sat, you could Buy the groups of channels you wished..and BASIC was FAIR..and about 50 channels from locals and independents..

Then the Corps diversified, MADE MORE CHANNELS, 7 major corps own ALL the channels, around the world.(WOW, what a spy network)
And insted of 3-4 channels from 1 corp, you have 20-30-40…ALL of them taking your money…
With CABLE/SAT deals that say if they SHOW 1, they have to SHOW ALL…and each costs cable/sat money, and then it costs YOU MONEY..
So, insted of having Lots of good content on a few channels, we have 40-200 channels FIGHTING to put Something on the TV…ANYTHING on the TV..from CRAP to Great programs..but how much can you CREATE every day of the year.
So THEY SWAP SHOWS BACK AND FORTH, A show starts on 1 channel and ships to the next and the next and the next, and takes 6 months to 1 year to Cover all of the corps channels..and you see the SAME thing, over and over and over..
THEN they sell it to Another group, and its shown AGAIN..

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Fear and Loathing in Malheur

Bull. No doubt they’re preparing the next Honey Boo Boo: A reality TV show following the Y’all Qaeda / Occupy Gift Shop crowd up in Oregon.

A fake militia with a fake Marine and a fake judge in a fake siege for a fake cause is the very definition of “Reality” TV.

And no doubt The Weather Channel or Learning Channel is filming a competing series. We’ll have our choice of inbRed Dawn *or* Deliverance: The Next Generation.

CSMcDonald (profile) says:

Well, Honey Boo Boo aired on TLC which is also owned by Discovery Networks, so that’s a minor point, but on the whole all of Discovery Network’s channels (History, Discovery, TLC, Science) have plummeted.

TLC was The Learning Channel and became the trainwreck reality show channel, History became ancient aliens and hitler, I don’t even know what Discovery channel is anymore and Science is airing Secret Alien Nasa Files and other dreck.

Mythbusters was the only show I still watched (I once upgraded my cable service back when digital was new to get more History channel stuff, back when they aired actual good content like Engineering an Empire and such) – and Mythbusters was doing a lot of BS shows like episodes that were advertisements for other DSC shows like Storm Chasers, and then an entire episode that was a big advertisement for The Green Hornet movie that had just come out.

The Mythbusters advertising wouldn’t be so galling if Adam didn’t proclaim loudly at eveyr chance he gets that they are real science.

Anonymous Coward says:

Where is the channel

Where is the channel that has Hometime, This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, and How It’s Made in the morning; Friends, Seinfeld, Malcolm in the Middle, and Star Trek during the afternoon; Law and Order, Cheers, Rockford Files, and Charlie’s Angels during the evening; and X-Files, Buffy, Millennium, and Twilight Zone overnight?

Do I ask for too much?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Where is the channel

I think the channel you’re looking for is called Netflix.

Most of the items on your list:

Malcolm in the Middle
Star Trek
Law and Order
Rockford Files
Twilight Zone

And lots of others you might like.

Over time, various series come and go.

And yes, you can watch Star Trek during the afternoon. Or any time you want to. And you can pause it. Or stop it and come back tomorrow to watch the rest.

And you can binge watch a series.

You can watch on YOUR schedule, not the cable network schedule.

No commercials.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: This doesn't solve a fundamental problem

taps his nose
Ding ding ding…
Like many other legacy content providers they are stuck in the “good old days” mentality.
Uncle Milty will come on and if you walked around any city you would see empty streets. Everyone would be in front of the nearest television set staring at the small screen and lapping up the content with rolled in advertising.
VCRs made the scene, and they were PISSED that people might tape shows to watch later and OMFG they loaned that tape to the neighbor who also happened to miss the show.
DVRs came on the scene and they found ways to not so subtly change show start times to punish people for not watching the shows live, because DVRs didn’t have real flexible scheduling and wow hearing customers getting angry DVR makers gave consumers what they wanted… networks tried lawsuits over skipping commercials.

Legacy content providers are lost in this new world, so they cling to the idea everyone will go back to the old ways. A newly launched FTA channel runs nothing but old game shows, but only a few shows and limited episodes because they are trying to find a way to make money on shows that aired 40 years ago. It would seem like a better use of the airwaves to have the channel running last nights primetime on a loop for the day. Instead if you are paying them extra via cable or an app (that will spy on everything you do in exchange for a window to see the show 4 days after it aired for about 2 hours) you can watch it on “your” schedule.

They think everything new, that they dislike, is a fad that will go away. They are sure people will come to their senses and run to back to them willing to pay more for the same dreck once again after the cat pictures online loose their luster.

I think this is a very scary moment, as channels are trying to be relevant to what they claim to be. Offering shows people actually want to watch and that stand out from all of the other cookie cutter shows flooding the channel.
Do we really need to try and get 50 Real Housewives shows on the air? Stupid people behaving stupidly are losing their luster as it becomes clear that reality is just real life recut & edited to play up the drama…. like wrestling.

The idea that they might have to fight to get the cable money as people can decide if they do or don’t want to pay for the privilege of the shit show channel cluttering up their channel hopping has them scrambling to figure out what people really want… while the streaming services (not owned by big content looking at you Hulu (pay to get 2 fewer ads!)) Can roll out a pilot and see if its worth picking up. They don’t live or die by getting income across a carefully designed season that leaves holes for other programming, hell they will let you watch it in a weekend and then suggest 5 other things you might like to binge.

Trying for redemption now might be far to little much to late as cable companies seriously consider ala carte so they can keep subscribers paying them. This is what competition is supposed to make happen, choice, variety, savings… they should be much more afraid.

I'm Fucking Pissed says:

We aren't in Kansas anymore

Wouldn’t it be nice if the national and global news channels would start reporting the truth about what is happening in the world and who was behind it? I would like to see treasonous politicians hanging from trees by their necks. The New world order spraying the planet with GOD KNOWS WHAT should be answering for their devastation of ecosystems and economies, the killing of humans and all life in the name of experimentation. Let us see the heads of corporate greed and devastation of our water, air and earth ROLL for their part in it.

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