Shirley Brady: What is your 2005 upfront pitch? Billy Campbell: Part of the story here is that there is so much new: new energy and excitement and adrenalin and direction here. This team has really come together. I’ve got a number of people who’ve been here a year or less than a year but they’re really feeling comfortable. I think that the team is really working well together, there’s great communication and just excitement and energy. What we’ve tried to do here is give them the opportunity to really spread their wings and to fly. We encourage much more risk-taking in terms of the way that we program and the way that we market, and it’s really starting to come through. This is the most optimistic time that I’ve had since I’ve been at the company. Brady: Do you feel, as the 20th anniversary approaches in June, that the Discovery Channel brand can be fresh and relevant heading into the next 20 years? Campbell: Take a look at our talent. If you attended our upfront in New York you would have seen Lance Armstrong and Jane Goodall and Adam Corolla as a new voice and these guys from Travel Channel who are new voices and very experiential in the way that they tell stories. You’d see some of the new freshness, and that we continue to try new things to stay true to that core that we have. It’s all about listening, and the message that I delivered loud and clear in my opening statement at the upfront was that we have to have more in the pipeline at all times. [It’s like] when ABC abandoned [scripted series] development because they thought [reality would be] the panacea for the next 10 years-it always will come back to haunt you. Brady: In bringing in all this fresh talent as general managers of your networks, is your goal to reinvigorate all these brands? Campbell: It is, but incumbent with that is you have to give them permission to really try new things, and that’s what we’re doing. Even though we give that permission, and I do think we’re starting to push the envelope and try new things, the audience still is with us in a very strong way. But the most important part for us is that we maintain that quality. The mantra here is always focus on the quality, because that’s what viewers really are interested in over the long term. You may have monthly or weekly aberrations in the way people program, but by and large, but if you stay true to your core and your spine—and ours really is quality—then the audience always comes back. And what we’re finding is that younger audiences are starting to get on board. Very seldom do people in a network environment love to hear the word "drop," but in our case it’s great because our median age for Discovery Channel is down about seven years. We’re right at around 40. So we’re now a wonderfully energetic and younger skewing network with new viewers. Brady: What do you think of the recent Deloitte report saying that traditional linear TV networks are bound for extinction? And what does that mean for your brands? Campbell: I think that piece is dead-on. In this increasingly cluttered and fast-paced world, brands do make a big difference. And I think that our brands, whether international or domestic, stand for quality, for recognition. Research shows that Discovery and TLC ranked No. 1 and 2 for audiences saying they’re willing to try bold programming and bold marketing ideas. So I continue to push the team to do that. And particularly as we all start to watch entertainment in different media, whether it be VOD, online, mobile, whatever, our brands are perfectly positioned for that. Not only because we do a great job in our affiliate area with [Discovery Networks’ president of affiliate sales and marketing] Bill Goodwyn being on top of all those trends, but our content is agnostic in that it can air anywhere in the world and everybody loves what we do with science, exploration and creativity. Who doesn’t? Have you ever met anyone that did not want to be smarter? We don’t beat viewers over the head with that, it’s not "sit down and welcome to class," it’s "entertain your brain." You’re able to watch our content anywhere in the world, whether on an airplane or in our new education division where we’re now the leading video streamer in the U.S., and we’re going to be in 75% of the school systems by the end of this year. Our content, unlike a lot of scripted content, works whether it’s in 30-second, one-minute, two-minute or 30-minute slugs. And that’s one of the geniuses to this 20th anniversary that we’re celebrating this year and what [Discovery founder] John Hendricks founded: This is content that everybody in the world, no matter your age or your location or your demographic, can appreciate and love. Brady: As you look back at the evolution of the Discovery brand over the past two decades, how do you compare what John Hendricks started and where you’re at today? Campbell: The neat thing is if you look back, as John said in closing our upfront [presentation in New York], there honestly isn’t that much that’s different today. We remain true to the core values of what he started, which is about being smarter, being curious, being inventive, providing the opportunity for the explorer and the scientist and the audience to come together, and to appreciate the same things, because they do. That hasn’t changed. If you look at what we do, whether that be Supervolcano, our highest-rated show this year, Pompeii: The Last Day, Greatest American. We were on The Today Show because NBC and Matt Lauer are helping us-he’s hosting the show. I think interactivity is going to become a bigger player, and so for this show, over those four Sunday nights in June, the audience gets to vote who is the greatest American of all time and have a real say. Brady: Do you feel you’ve been able to embrace change and yet stay true to the brands? Campbell: I think that one thing that’s neat about this company is not only have we evolved and adapted, but even with all of that and 20 years, I don’t think we stand there and say we believe in the exact same principles that John Hendricks had when Discovery launched on June 17, 1985. Brady: As much as you say you give your GMs and executives permission to push the boundaries, how much permission do your viewers give you? Aren’t there a lot of old-school Discovery fans out there who want classic programming-these specials you talk about-and less of the American Chopper and Monster Garage type of content? How do you do something new without dramatically changing the DNA you’re talking about and alienating your loyal viewers? Campbell: It is a delicate balance. But I think that’s why it’s something we focus on. Again, it always starts with the keep-it-simple mantra of "focus on quality," and that’s whether you’re talking about the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, Discovery Kids. Marjorie Kaplan and her team at Discovery Kids are doing a phenomenal job, they just had 10 Emmy nominations. That speaks to the whole quality across the platform. Whether it be Travel, TLC or Animal Planet, every one of them we start with the tenet of whatever we put on, make sure it’s the best it can be and make sure it’s informative and entertaining. So we start with that, and then we say, well, how can I make that different and how can I make that cut through? So that’s when we start looking at talent that we might not have used before. Let’s listen to voices that we might not have heard before. Let’s look at techniques-and we’ve clearly been the leader in high definition. So we stay true to these core values, and then we say, what are different ways to tell these stories? And that’s what we’ve been doing. If you look over the past couple of years-Nefertiti Resurrected, Egypt Week Live, Walking With Cavemen, a year in the life of selecting the Blue Angels-we are now shooting these with a much faster pace, a different pace. The upshot is what appears to be a new show, and I think that’s key. Brady: What have you learned in your three years as the guardian of these brands about what’s possible and what’s going too far? Campbell: I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that passion in the way that you produce things, the way you program and the way you market is critical, and everybody here has it. That has been the biggest joy for me being at this company, that the people that I get to work with are so passionate about what we do. Rarely at our company does it come down to a decision being about commerce. It’s really about the brand, the audience, the scientist, the explorer, the individual-and let’s treat them all admirably and right. And in the end that strategy pays off. I’ve been amazed at the ability of this company to be ranked No. 1 in quality with all the competition, all the choices people have, the different techniques that a lot of people throw at you. Brady: One of those techniques in recent years, of course, being reality programming. How did that impact your networks, all of which are rooted in being nonfiction programmers? Campbell: When reality was at its zenith, that’s a little scary for a programmer, when you’re trying to program quality programming and a network can put on Joe Millionaire and do a 39 share. That’s a little scary. But the great thing about it was that Joe Millionaire 2 was a flop and it was gone, and now they’re not doing that any more. The fun part of programming is you don’t quite know where the next hit is coming from. Brady: So how do you balance the chase for ratings and hits so that they don’t overrun your schedule, as Trading Spaces did for TLC or American Chopper and its ilk on Discovery? Because the danger, of course, is that (a) they define your brand and (b) when they inevitably dip in the ratings, you’re going down too. Campbell: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of challenges to being a programmer, and that’s right up there. The honest answer is it’s somewhat inevitable as a programmer that you ride things a little too long. Because your goal is to give the audience something that they’re excited by and they enjoy coming back to. It’s like picking the high of a stock-you can’t always be right there. But what you need to do is listen to the audience, and we’re doing a much better job of that. They will start to tell you-if you listen to them carefully and ask questions and have that dialogue-when it’s not quite as interesting, it’s not quite as fresh. Brady: So next time you’ll know earlier when something like makeover shows have overstayed their welcome? Campbell: The makeover genre, quite frankly, if you look around now, it’s hardly working for any network. NBC’s show with Verne Yip was a disaster. The only shows that continue to kind of work are Trading Spaces, which continues to do very well-not as high as it was, but still a very solid show-and ABC’s Extreme Makeover, which does well every week. Brady: So you’re stepping up both the quantity and quality of your development pipeline across the networks? Campbell: What I’ve done with my GMs is say here are the resources, here’s the marketing and I need you to have the passion and the vision, to stay true to quality and let’s try it. Knowing that only two or three things out of 10 ever work, it’s OK. If you’re not swinging for the fence, you’re never going to hit it out of the park. Brady: Can older networks and brands turn around on a dime and reinvent themselves? A&E certainly pulled out the stops at its upfront in New York to let people know that it is no longer your mother’s A&E. Campbell: I applaud the fact that they’ve increased their ratings, and they have done a nice job over the past six months to a year. They’ve taken a different strategy. Ours is much more focused on our brand, we are less about picking shows. We all have to be programmers and pick shows, but I do believe fundamentally-and that’s why cable has made a big difference-is that people come to brands. In the end, that’s my goal. We’re going to stay true to each of our brands. It’s going to be about quality, and we will have unique voices trying new things, but in the end it will never obviate how important our brand is. Brady: How do you articulate your goals looking forward? Campbell: We always want to grow, but to grow in the right way. Again, I never want to have people say, "You made a deal with the devil, you were trying to get more audience and you went away from the brand." That’s not something I ever want. Our challenge to ourselves, and to every GM, is stay true to that brand and still grow your audience. That’s what we’re focused on.

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BET is celebrating Juneteenth with a programming slate as part of its “Content for Change” initiative. Saturday at noon, the network will deliver social justice-themed episodes of series, inspirational films and short-form content across its platforms. BET will also launch a Manifesto campaign and deliver messages of inspiration from Black talent, thought leaders, and changemakers […]

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