Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's About Time

The other day I turned on the TV and was given a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of Alaskan crab fisherman. I was tempted to look forward to a visit from a witty, sarcastic friend whose charm and optimism were balanced only by a slew of empirically disgusting and laborious “jobs”. I also watched a crash-test dummy get the living snot smashed out of himself – all in about two hours’ time. If you were able to identify the above references without clicking on the hyperlinks, then you have something in common with about 97 million American households. You know I’m talking about the Discovery Channel.

It also occurred to me that 95% of the programming either stored in my DVR or scheduled to be recorded was that of Discovery Communications, specifically their marquee network the Discovery Channel. How did this happen? In the name of full disclosure, I AM an old soul. I have preferred the Discovery Channel and History Channel over MTV ever since I realized that Milli Vanilli were faking it. Needless to say, my predisposition for mature television habits certainly left me susceptible for these types of viewing habits, but somehow I still did not sense even the slightest air of transition.

As it turns out, the Discovery Channel recently arose from turbulent times and snuck in amongst a reality landscape peppered with of Flavor Flav suitors conflicting over who knows what, Rock of Love contestants conflicting over voyeurism and silicone and every pointless reality show known to man. So you may ask, how has the Discovery Channel won its way back into my heart and more importantly, my DVR? The answer is simple. Stay true to yourself.

Discovery Channel is dedicated to creating the highest quality television and media to inspire audiences by delivering knowledge about the work in an entertaining way; evolving a timeless brand for a changing world.

The key factor is that consumer trends and pop culture will change with the tides – today they’re bewildered by a slice of life previously unseen, tomorrow they’ve been there/done that, but the inquisitive nature of people will always remain constant. Now, this is an important observation when your job is to educate the masses and you’ve been trolling for novelty since 1985. The Discovery Channel began with nature specials, then next thing you know fish, birds and mammals seemed to all follow the same plot – birth, growth (with significant adolescent cuteness), digestion of other animals (or gross things), and death. Eventually, Discovery adapted to the reality television craze. After four seasons, the viewer is convinced they know all there is to know about building a [insert novel craft here] and ratings come from character conflict opposed to viewer epiphany. The natural result of learning is to become learned, so where to next? Try the internet. I know; yet another ground breaking observation on my part. :-)

Discovery has done a fantastic job thus far integrating their television programming with online content. I would consider MythBusters to be the epitome of this integration. Fans can propose new myths to be ‘busted’, discuss the validity of processes filmed on the show and access a slew of video content not included in broadcast episodes. Dirty Jobs has a similar online content procurement model as well.

However, Discovery Communications has taken this online success one step further in building

Since formally becoming a part of the Discovery family in December, the combined supersite has gone from 10 million unique visitors in December to 15 million uniques last month. The plan for 2008 is to sell the two as a way to package contextual online search buys for clients to effectively own a category of information on the site, like hybrid cars or car engines.

Will this digital endeavor work? As always, time will tell. With online video and social networking very nearly reaching point of saturation it’s very difficult to predict. However, with their recent addition of an in-house creative arm they appear to have the right idea. Provide your viewers the right content, show your advertisers a little love and affection then watch the dough roll in……..hopefully.

What do you think? Too little, too late, or are have they figured out what everyone else is trying so desperately to articulate and mobilize?

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