One Month After Acquiring Scripps, Discovery Unveils Unified Upfront for Its 17 Networks

‘This is the greatest collection of brands ever assembled in this industry under one company’

The first Discovery-Scripps crossover special, Drew and Linda Say I Do, airs next month on TLC. TLC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

There was no time for celebration when Discovery Communications closed its deal to acquire Scripps Networks last month. Instead, Jon Steinlauf, the former Scripps ad sales chief who was named chief U.S. advertising sales officer for the combined company (now called Discovery Inc.), had less than two weeks to turn an all-Scripps upfront event into a Discovery Inc. presentation focusing on the combined company’s eight priority networks: Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Discovery, Animal Planet, OWN, ID and TLC.

He pulled it off just in time for the first of seven upfront events, held in Detroit on March 20. “You never would have known it was pushed together as fast as it was,” said Steinlauf, who continued to tweak the presentation since then to achieve a 50-50 balance between the Discovery and Scipps assets.

But the combined company—which now includes 17 networks—will receive its biggest upfront spotlight this afternoon, when it makes its New York debut for buyers during its “Advertising Works Here”-themed presentation at Alice Tully Hall.

“We’re going to be talking about what we share in common: passion. We have great storytelling, we have great talent, we have the best brands,” said Steinlauf. “I believe that this is the greatest collection of brands ever assembled in this industry under one company. We’re going to lead in home, food, travel, auto, animals, adventure, investigation, science and empowering stories for African-American women. That’s so much territory to cover from one company.”

With 97 percent of the company’s ads being viewed live-same-day, Steinlauf is touting Discovery Inc. as one of the only options for brands to reach women, who are watching less live linear TV. “Upscale women are watching a lot of scripted on SVOD, on pay, on the DVR, on streaming, time-shift—so the advertisers have to think about this market as, where can I get my ads seen live by a female audience?” said Steinlauf.

But even with the focus on the company’s linear strength, Steinlauf said Discovery’s various Go apps represent “the fastest growing segment of our business in ad sales right now.” OWN was just launched, and Go apps for HGTV and Food Network will be ready by this summer.

The company has already planned its first big Discovery-Scripps crossover event: Next month, TLC will air a wedding special—”Drew and Linda Say I Do”—featuring Drew Scott, from HGTV’s Property Brothers. “TLC owns weddings on Saturday nights, so we’re going to do a wedding special that will air about a week after his Italian wedding,” said Kathleen Finch, who oversees 12 networks as chief lifestyle brands officer. “We’re already working on all kinds of opportunities between the nets and the talent.”

Food Network will help celebrate the 30th anniversary of Discovery’s Shark Week this summer, with talent making shark-themed cocktails and cookies on their shows before directing audiences to tune into Shark Week.

"I believe that this is the greatest collection of brands ever assembled in this industry under one company."
Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer, Discovery Inc.

In the first quarter, Discovery Inc. had four of the top seven cable networks in women 25-54: ID, HGTV, Food Network and TLC. “When you control a lot of good female audiences on a nightly basis, the ability to cross-promote and push an audience around strategically is a huge advantage for us,” said Steinlauf.

Those efforts began with Saturday’s premiere of the Trading Spaces revival on TLC.

“It was the first time that all the nets were strategically pointing to one priority, and it ended up being No. 1 in cable for Saturday night. So we do have the power to move the audience when we’re strategic about it,” said Finch. “We have such a valuable audience, and now that we’re not frenemies, what can we do to say, ‘okay, here’s the priority for this week, all boats are pointing to that priority. How big can we get it?’ To me, that’s the most exciting thing.”

Steinlauf noted the networks can work together for brands, as well. “If an advertiser wants to launch a car, launch a movie, launch a promotion at a restaurant, we serve so many audiences that we can get instant reach. Especially when they watch live,” he said.

The new management team settles in

As they prepared for today’s upfront event, the new Discovery management team—which was just named a month ago—spoke with Adweek about their plans for their networks in the year ahead.

“Discovery means a lot of things to different people, so figuring out how to crystallize all of that into one set of programming that can deliver on the brand, that’s probably my biggest challenge,” said former TLC president Nancy Daniels, who is now chief brand officer, Discovery and Factual, overseeing Discovery Channel and Science Channel.

She added that with their current programming, there’s “huge opportunity” to “reengage the viewer in why you love Discovery to begin with.” “The world is an amazing place, and we want to help you explore it and satisfy your curiosity,” she said. “That’s what Discovery is at its best.”

Daniels is looking to do more shows like Why We Hate, the documentary series Discovery announced last Friday that will be executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Alex Gibney. “It’s just exciting to be able to dig deep on some issues that affect all of us with some of the greatest storytellers that are out there,” she said about the show, which will air next year.

Susanna Dinnage, who was named global president of Animal Planet in November, is focusing on “unlocking the power of animal content, and understanding what Animal Planet’s role in that is,” and “how to make the brand relevant for a digital future.” She noted that “the slate we are creating will be a fantastic range of content that the whole family can enjoy.”

Finch—who had been chief programming, content and brand officer for the six Scripps networks and is now chief lifestyle brands officer for Discovery Inc.—will be leaning into the passionate fanbase of her networks. “The synergies we’re able to drive and the opportunities that we’ve already made happen across the different female-skewing brands is really exciting,” said Finch.

“We’re going in as a 17-channel portfolio and talking to the seven or eight biggest holding companies in America as one. It’s a single negotiation.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.