Discovery Seeks Long Tail

NEW YORK Searching the Web for “hybrid cars,” you were unlikely to come across video content from Discovery Communications. That’s changed now that the company has plunked down $250 million to purchase HowStuffWorks in the hope that its trove of more than 100,000 hours of video content will find a new home in the long tail of online search.

Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks has a database of 30,000 articles that cover everything from lightning to baking cookies to hybrid cars. Over 70 percent of its traffic comes from search engines like Google, which return its article pages high among search results.

The HowStuffWorks article on hybrid cars, for example, is the No. 3 Google result in the category. That content now features a two-and-a-half-minute clip of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s documentary for Discovery, Addicted to Oil. Discovery plans to seed its thousands of hours of video content throughout HowStuffWorks’ articles. The goal is to find disparate audiences that otherwise might not have visited DiscoveryChannel.com.

With 70 percent of HowStuffWorks articles appearing on the front page of Google, Discovery now has new outlets for its content. It can take pieces of programming like Addicted to Oil, match them with niche interests and sell targeted advertising. HowStuffWorks attracts about 4.5 million U.S. visitors per month, according to Nielsen Online.

“To date, our own Web sites have been very show-driven,” said Bruce Campbell, president of digital media and business development at Discovery. “When we look at the wealth of video we have, there’s an opportunity to tap into that on a category basis. We needed a contextual home for that video.”

The deal gives HowStuffWorks a ready-made solution to a big problem it faced: how to scale video offerings for its 30,000 article pages. Earlier this year, it began soliciting videos from nonprofit, government and even advertiser sources. But that wasn’t enough, said HowStuffWorks founder and CEO Jeff Arnold, even though the site has about 3,000 video clips at present.

“We know video is going to be an important part of the HowStuffWorks experience,” he said. “You need time, resources and expertise to do that.”

Being part of Discovery will also insulate a Google-dependent business like HowStuffWorks—the search giant generates nearly half of its total traffic—from changes in how Google compiles results. Discovery plans to promote the HowStuffWorks brand on its networks. And a HowStuffWorks TV show is set to debut on Discovery later this year.

“Being search dependent has risks,” Arnold said. “Being with Discovery mitigates that.”

The HowStuffWorks agreement is the largest in a trio of deals Discovery has made in recent months to add to its digital portfolio. It also purchased PetFinder.com and environmental blog TreeHugger.com. All three will maintain their unique brands.

“We’ve seen the acquisitions that have succeeded the most are the ones where the brand team has room to breathe,” Campbell said.