With our Program Awards-Top Ops event taking place in L.A. on Oct. 18, we asked Programming Hall of Fame inductee Henry Schleiff to give us some insight on his vision for Investigation Discovery, Military Channel and Planet. As it turns out, the Discovery pres/gm has big plans for the nets.
With ID’s big ratings growth over the last year, how long do you think the momentum will continue? Do you expect growth to slow at some point soon and, if so, what will be the strategy to keep creating value?
We’re very optimistic about the strength of the ID brand – it’s the number one network for audience growth in television and has the number one length of tune in ad supported cable, so our audience is really responding to our original programming. Based on the number of successful returning series we have for 2012 and the strength of our development pipeline, I’m very confident about our ability to continue our momentum.
And speaking of that ratings growth, when do you think CPMs will catch up? What’s your strategy for continuing to convey ID’s value to advertisers to increase revenue?
For a network that’s only three years old we’re doing very well – well beyond our even our most aggressive expectations. While we will always remain a very efficient and effective buy, we’re working to more appropriately align prices with delivery – and, of course, our industry-leading performance regarding audience engagement criteria.
Having also run Court TV, you seem to have your finger on the pulse of crime/justice programming. What is it about subjects like criminality and prison that fascinates people—and keeps them watching?
The mystery and justice genre, both non-fiction and drama, is a common point of departure and success for many networks, not only ID, but also many other cable networks and broadcast networks, such as CBS’ primetime schedule. There’s an enormous audience with an insatiable appetite for good content – it’s sought-after in books, movies, print and broadcast news and, of course television. At ID, we don’t just focus on the genre – but, also, on great storytelling with all the elements of emotion, puzzle-solving and the high stakes of life and death, which is what keeps our viewers watching.
Walk us through the process of finding content for ID? How do ideas and concepts come to you, and—since you’re the ultimate decider in terms of what gets on air—what basic elements must be present before you give it a “yes”?
First and foremost is our desire for great storytelling – and, with that as a foundation, we want a mix of programming – shows that entertain, inform and, perhaps on occasion, even inspire. We also look for a few projects with organic personalities that can move the story along, like our upcoming series with Lt. Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter. For us, it’s not as much about suspense; it’s about mystery and allowing the audience to guess what will happen as the story unfolds… and if there’s a ticking clock, all the better!
How do you want the public to perceive the ID brand? And do you feel you have achieved that brand message yet or still have a ways to go?
Any brand, especially in television, is always continuing to evolve. One of the things we believe our brand delivers is a breadth of programming and tone – some series are over the top like Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? … some are real investigations like On the Case with Paula Zahn … and some are truly important like our involvement with Werner Herzog’s new theatrical documentary Into the Abyss or the upcoming ID Film commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Sin By Silence.
Military Channel has been a sleepy Discovery property. What are your plans to take it to the next level? Are there similarities in strategy to what you’ve done with ID?
As with ID, we’re interested in evolving and expanding the programming. Our audience really responds to our history-driven programming (they’ll love Nazi Collaborators launching Oct 4), our Officer and a Movie franchise and our series on modern technology, like the upcoming Triggers with Wil Willis. We’ll dramatically expand in those areas. We’re working on our most ambitious slate to date for the upcoming season, and the synergies come with having an amazing development team, and great leadership with Ed Hersh, looking for terrific storytelling.
What about Planet Green? Where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges? What’s the basic strategy for ratings growth?
I’m excited to work with Marc Etkind, our new head of content strategy, on expanding the value and appeal of Planet Green to our distributors, advertisers and viewers. As David Zaslav has indicated over the last several months, we’re certainly developing and investing more in this network because we see some real opportunities for expansion.