Since he took over Discovery, CEO David Zaslav has taken some pretty big swings. He’s rebranded channels (one twice); launched a network with Oprah Winfrey; and even invested in a European sports network – a property about as unrelated to the company’s portfolio as some TLC shows are to reality.
But he’s also showed a willingness to bide his time at the plate and take pitches. Several years back, when cable networks were rushing to make full episodes online for free and collecting ad revenue, he held back. He said the financials didn’t make sense, indicating it could damage the ability to sell the content on various platforms and hurt relationships with pay-TV distributors.
He couldn’t have predicted the rise of Netflix back then, but turns out he was on the right track with both concepts.
Clearly, he’s trying to avoid a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach again with TV Everywhere, the movement where cable and other operators want to give customers access to content on PCs, tablets and smartphones on the go. Operators are willing to pay for the rights, but the market is hardly established. And Zaslav says there’s no need to move quickly.
Last year, Discovery cut several carriage deals, where operators wanted the opportunity, but the company declined.
“We couldn’t determine what the right value was,” Zaslav said on an investor call Thursday.
(As part of a trial, Comcast does have some shows available on its Xfinity platform such as Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush,” TLC’s “Something Borrowed, Something New” and Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot.” But the content is only accessible via a PC.)
At the risk of singling out and overly lionizing Zaslav, Discovery is not the only programmer waiting for the TV Everywhere price to become too tempting to turn down. It's also easier to forgo easy money and wait for better terms when you're Discovery clearing about a $1 billion in annual profits. Discovery is also collecting nice fees from Netflix and Amazon for doing not much more than sending them content already bought and paid for.
Discovery might make some discrete TV Everywhere arrangements with distributors soon or include the rights in broader renewal deals. In either case, Zaslav said "given that we are almost 10% of viewership on cable," there's a "very valuable opportunity."
Overall, when it comes to the TV Everywhere landscape, the programmers appear to have the upper hand versus distributors, whether DirecTV, Time Warner Cable or Verizon. Operators competing with one another in a tablet- and smartphone-obsessed world want to market themselves as offering content across screens. In the case of cable and telco TV operators, selling video service is an entree to getting customers to take lucrative broadband services as well.
Zaslav said if offering TV Everywhere access “has an effect on the way (customers) feel about the distributor, if it has an effect on (reducing customer defections), it’s not clear exactly what the value is, but there is real value in us providing that and the operators agree with that and we just need to figure out to how apportion that value and we haven’t yet agreed on how to do that.”
There’s another reason to hold off on a TV Everywhere rush: maximizing ad revenue. While Nielsen can measure consumption on PCs, it can’t yet on tablets or smartphones and networks want full credit for ads watched on all platforms.
Offering TV Everywhere rights isn’t the only emerging chip networks have. Operators want to bulk up their traditional video-on-demand libraries. And Zaslav said some want to challenge Netflix and Amazon by jumping into the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) arena.
“Another bite at the apple,” he said.
But it’s pretty clear he’d hold off on sinking his teeth in until he's sure the opportunity will bear real fruit.