Discovery Communications recently announced it will close its 103 mall-based and stand-alone Discovery Channel stores by late summer or early fall. Discovery started its retail business in the 1990s, and bought 117 Nature Company stores along the way, in 1996.
In 2001, Walt Disney's two-year-old experiment with ESPN stores in malls ended. Disney realized this wasn't the "experience" its male 18-34 viewers were seeking -- to buy baseball hats with ESPN's name on it.
But ESPN has found modest success with its ESPN Zones, the chain sports bar. Apparently, sports consumers like wearing ESPN hats, as long as they can drink like athletes, too. Instead of retail establishments, the name ESPN gives to ESPN Zone Sports Bar is "family fun centers."
Analysts say Discovery's demise can be traced to the Internet: If you want to buy that special TV-related product, you can easily do so online. Now, many companies, such as Delivery Agent, have made a business of selling TV-related clothing and other merchandise online -- all in the privacy of your home. No one's to know.
But perhaps there's more to the Discovery failure. The stores always seemed like a cool place to ogle products, but it stopped there -- you never wanted to bring anything home. Still, consumers were still getting the idea that Discovery was associated with some cool stuff.
Additionally, perhaps consumers want to keep their association with TV at a distance. Here's the good news for TV programmers: Consumers still see the medium as a guilty pleasure, but they watch more TV than ever before. All this happens in an era of exploding alternative digital entertainment media.
There is a ceiling on what we will do for TV, though. Our interest in the medium stops when we leave the house; we don't want to be interrupted after some concentrated shopping for toys, T-shirts, and towels.