Discovery unveils expanded UK ad sales proposition

Wan: star of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire
Wan: star of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire

Special-interest TV channels 'power people's passions' and have scale, broadcaster says at its upfront presentation.

Discovery has launched a UK advertising charm offensive and rebranded its ad sales team as it seeks to capitalise on its 7% share of commercial impacts – double the level of two years ago.

James Gibbons, who oversees Discovery in the UK and Ireland, as well as Australia and New Zealand, told the audience at its upfront presentation at London’s Somerset House that the broadcaster’s offer is more attractive for advertisers after it acquired channels from UKTV and Scripps.

He said Discovery helps to "power people’s passions" by focusing on special interests from food to weddings and home improvements to motoring, and reaches these "defined audiences" at scale.

Its portfolio of "brand-safe", "real-world entertainment" channels, which include Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Quest and TLC, now attracts three out of every five Britons or 35 million every month, according to Gibbons.

Discovery used the upfront – its first event for advertisers since the broadcaster took control of three channels, Good Food, Really and Home, from UKTV earlier this month – to explain how it wants to work more closely with brands and agencies and to announce some forthcoming programming.

Highlights included former British gold medalist Greg Rutherford hosting coverage of the 2020 Olympics and Gok Wan presenting the new series of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire for TLC and How to Look Good Naked for Really.

In a sign of how Discovery its putting its stamp on the UKTV channels; it is rebranding Home as HGTV to bring it into line with its US-owned brand.

Close to £300m a year in UK ad sales

Discovery is estimated to bring in as much as £300m in UK ad sales after expanding its portfolio and its share of commercial impact, which has risen to about 7% from 3.5% two years ago, puts it roughly on a par with Channel 5 owner Viacom and behind ITV, Channel 4 and Sky’s own channels.

The in-house UK ad sales team, which is led by Katie Coteman, vice-president of advertising and partnerships, has rebranded to become Superpowered by Discovery to emphasise how "we want out clients’ campaigns to be super-powered", Gibbons explained.

The 10-strong team looks after brand partnerships and digital ad sales on third-party platforms such as social media.

However, Discovery will continue to outsource most of its estimated £300m a year in TV ad sales in what is now a split arrangement between Sky and Channel 4.

Discovery has a long-term contract with Sky Media, while the UKTV channels are represented by 4Sales under another long-standing deal.

"This is a situation that is a result of the deals that were done, so we’ve walked with very open eyes into it because those were the conditions that we could progress and get things done [when Discovery bought the UKTV channels]," Gibbons told Campaign.

"Both of our ad sales reps have a very strong reputation and a very strong track record in monetising those assets and products, and we’re trying to understand the dynamics and get to know, in the case of Channel 4, our new partner."

While Gibbons said Discovery is "very happy in those relationships" with Sky Media and Channel 4 for the time being, he said the broadcaster will need to "review the options" in the future.

"Historically, when you look at what’s happened in these situations, there is always a question every few years when the contracts come up of whether things are consolidated and with who," Gibbons said.

Asked if Discovery could even set up its own TV ad sales house, he noted the company has "every conceivable model" in place in different markets around the world. 

He added the global media and video marketplace has changed "significantly" because of digital disruption and consolidation in the past 18 months and many players are considering new options.

Discovery agreed a deal with rival ProSiebenSat.1 last week to launch a joint online streaming service in Germany and it is also keeping an eye on plans for BritBox, a streaming venture set up by the BBC and ITV in the UK. 

Importance of scale 

Discovery has been thinking about its expansion in terms of four strategic pillars: its audience reach through broadcast, on-demand and online channels; its range of brands and products; its distribution on platforms and services; and its relationships with commercial and broadcast partners.

Gibbons said scale and collaboration are both becoming more important. 

"Without the scale, you tend not to have a seat at the table," he warned. "You need to have scale to over-index on your share of revenue. If you’re small, you’ll under-index and you’ll struggle to finance the products that you’re seeking to build."

That applies to everything from ad sales to channel carriage fees, he said, explaining "why we need to bulk up".

Discovery is based in the US, but Gibbons said investing in UK-made programming remains important to attract local audiences and British shows often tend to travel well overseas. 

"The UK is a creative engine" for Discovery and "there’s no way" that is going to change, he said.

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