Discovery Enlists Michael Phelps for Shark Week, Announces Revival of Trading Spaces Ahead of Upfronts

Will also be rebooting Cash Cab and Mythbusters

Michael Phelps will help Discovery kick off its 29th year of Shark Week this July.
Getty Images

As Discovery Communications goes into this year’s upfront, the company is touting the strength of its intellectual property (IP), and is backing that up by reviving some of its biggest brands like Trading Spaces, Cash Cab and Mythbusters, all of which will be returning in the next year.

Discovery Communications has pivoted “from a company that is about channels to a company that is about IP,” said David Zaslav, president and CEO, Discovery Communications, during an upfront press event this morning. “We’re the only media company that owns all of our IP, everywhere in the world, on every device.”

As part of that IP spotlight, Discovery is reviving Cash Cab, which ran on the network from 2005 to 2012. In this iteration, unsuspecting New York cab drivers will come into contact with celebrities.

TLC, which is up 20 percent in primetime, is bringing back Trading Spaces, the show’s most successful series ever, which “put property shows on the TV map,” said Nancy Daniels, president and general manager of TLC. The show will return in 2018.

And Science Channel is reviving Mythbusters, with new hosts Brian Louden and Jonathan Lung, who won Mythbusters: The Search last year.

After a couple of rough years, Discovery Communications has momentum at many of its networks.

Meanwhile, Discovery has big plans to make this year’s Shark Week, now in its 29th year, “our best ever,” said Zaslav, who announced that Michael Phelps will help kick off the franchise on the first night, July 23. The swimmer’s role is still unclear; Zaslav said only that he’ll be “aligning with the sharks.”

After a couple of rough years, Discovery Communications has momentum at many of its networks. Discovery, which was the No. 1 channel for men 25-54 last year, had its highest ratings ever this quarter. The company is also rebuilding its audience at TLC, where ratings are up 20 percent this quarter.

The company expanded its reach last October with a $100 million investment in Group Nine Media, where digital sites Thrillist, Seeker, The Dodo and NowThis have a combined 4 billion monthly views.

Ben Price, Discovery’s new president of ad sales, said every member of his team can now sell inventory across all of Discovery’s platforms, after spending the past 18 months integrating those teams, as he discussed with Adweek in February.

Last October, the company split its TV Everywhere app, Discovery Go, into individual apps for each network. Since then, its Go streams are growing 20 percent month over month, with an average visit session of 65 minutes. The company will be creating original content for its TLC Go app: a digital spinoff of the network’s 90 Day Fiance series, called 90 Day Fiance: What Now?

Paul Guyardo, chief commercial officer, said Discovery’s apps offer more content than their competitors, as many of them feature every episode ever produced of a given series. Buyers have the flexibility to buy a show, a series, a season or even sponsor an entire app.

"We’re the only media company that owns all of our IP, everywhere in the world, on every device."
David Zaslav, president and CEO, Discovery Communications

Discovery can create custom content for advertisers, or branded content that leverages Discovery IP. As for advertising in the virtual reality space, “we know what we’re doing,” said Guyardo, noting that Discovery was the first to launch a VR entertainment app in 2015.

The company has partnered with Amazon for two OTT apps, one for true crime and one for paranormal. Next week it will add a wedding app, Say Yes, featuring several hundred hours of content. Those applications enable Discovery to “have a direct economic relationship with the Amazon subscribers,” said Zaslav.

After partnering with Snapchat last month to create original content for the platform, Discovery will be launching a new Snapchat Discover channel, tied to Eurosport’s Winter Olympics broadcast next year. Advertisers can buy inventory through Discovery Digital to guarantee their ads will run in Discovery shows, and coordinate their Snapchat buy with the rest of their portfolio buy.

While Discovery Communications supports Nielsen’s new Total Content Ratings metric, “right now it’s an incomplete solution,” said Price. So Discovery has partnered with ComScore and Symphony for other ratings data, which shows unduplicated measurement across all their platforms.

Among Discovery’s other big announcements today:

  • Discovery will celebrate the space program with the documentary NASA: 60 Years and Beyond. Its next scripted miniseries, Manhunt: Unabomber, about the search to bring down Ted Kaczynski, will premiere on Aug. 1.
  • Investigation Discovery, which is No. 1 in length of tune and No. 2 in total day in women 25-54, is continuing to branch into scripted fare with its first two scripted movies, Final Vision (about Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters) and Dating Game Killer (about Rodney Alcala, the serial killer who appeared on The Dating Game in 1978). Next year, the network will air its first limited series The Von Bulow Affair, based on Claus and Sunny von Bulow. And the company has teamed with James Patterson for James Patterson’s Murder is Forever. Patterson will write nonfiction books based on real cases from ID’s vault, which will then be produced as a scripted series on the network.
  • TLC is launching a second linear 90 Day Fiancé spinoff series, 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, to go along with 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After? its new digital spinoff. The network will also air a new Dating Game-like series, Hear Me, Love Me, See Me, in which women will have to choose from three suitors without actually seeing any of them. This is Life Live, which “embodies all that the brand is,” said Daniels, will be a four-day live event in April.
  • OWN, the No. 1 network for African-American women, will debut a new Tyler Perry scripted series next year, The Paynes, a spinoff of his House of Payne series.
  • The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki will executive produce and host SciJinks on the Science Channel, a practical joke show based on science-inspired pranks.