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First Mover: JB Perrette

Discovery's chief digital officer talks about the challenges of 'TV Everywhere'

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

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To be honest, I sort of expected you to sound like Pepé le Pew when you first opened your mouth.
[Laughs] Actually, I was born and raised here in New York. I mean, I’m a Mets fan! But yes, my father is French. My mother’s a Cincinnatian.

You were instrumental in the launch of Hulu. Given your unique perspective, are you less likely to pursue a relationship with them now that you’re with Discovery?
I was involved at the infancy of the concept, back when some of the Google people were still calling it “Clown Co.” And while Hulu is a great example of how established companies can find a balance between legacy and emerging business models, my past involvement with Hulu doesn’t necessarily translate into an obligation for Discovery to do anything with them. We’ll talk to them because they obviously provide a great consumer experience and are a major video provider, but right now we don’t have a syndication deal in place.

Are there any syndicators out there that are so big you almost can’t help but do business with them?
The reality is, the big players in the video space are YouTube and Hulu. We believe in being ubiquitously distributed as long as our brands are prominent and well represented and our content is protected. We want to be where the audience is.

What about pursing a proprietary service?
The people who have had success with the vertical subscription-video model are in the sports space. Everyone else, it just hasn’t really worked.

How can an industry that can’t seem to resolve some of the stickier rights issues fulfill the promise of “TV Everywhere?”
This is an industry that deals in medium- to long-cycle contract negotiations. And so depending on where the companies fell in the cycle, a lot of terms and deal points were negotiated before anyone knew what was coming around the corner. The space moves so fast that a year from now what we’re doing today may be irrelevant. The space moves too fast for contracts to be able to properly govern, but it’s the best [system] we have.

As digestible as a lot of Discovery programming is, you really want to watch a lot of the franchise stuff on your wide-screen HD set. How do you decide what programming is the best fit for digital platforms?
With natural history series like Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, the bigger the screen, the better. But you have to remember that those tent poles are only a subset of the overall programming mix. With Gold Rush, we’ve done huge streaming numbers with our character Q&As after the show. And so not only do they provide the audience with more of a two-way kind of interaction with the show itself, but it also creates an opportunity to spin this content back to the linear platform. We took the best of all the Gold Rush after-shows and aired it on Discovery Channel the Friday before New Year’s. And so even though that’s not a heavily watched evening, it did a 1.4 in the demo, which was huge.

Where does mobile fit in with the Discovery digital strategy?
We’re going from developing content for 100 million TV households to creating experiences for a billion devices. Something like half a billion smartphones were sold last year alone. These devices are finding their way into the pockets of a consumer base that is engaged and empowered like never before, and this is where the audience is. And wherever the audience is, you’ll find Discovery.






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