Investigation Discovery Preps Bloody New Slate

True-crime network has ratings, revenue momentum

While the emerging networks are allowed only a brief window in which to flaunt their wares, it’s a safe bet that media buyers will be hanging on Henry Schleiff’s every word during Discovery Communications’ annual upfront extravaganza.

On Thursday, the president and general manager of Investigation Discovery will make a pitch for the true-crime network, which is the fastest-growing channel on the cable dial. Along with whiplash growth in prime time deliveries and overall distribution, ID goes to market with its most ambitious slate of original programming.

Thanks to new hits like Sins & Secrets and I (Almost) Got Away with It, ID has lifted its nightly deliveries by 57 percent. In the first quarter of 2011, the network averaged 576,000 viewers in prime, up from 366,000 in the year-ago quarter. As more viewers began to discover the network, its target demos also soared. Per Nielsen, ID in Q1 boosted its share of viewers 18-49 by 50 percent, while adults 25-54 were up 48 percent.

Now in 73 million U.S. households, ID has added 17 million subs in the last year, expanding its base by 30 percent.

Among the eight new series on ID’s 2011-12 docket are: Real Crime/Reel Story, which digs up the real-life poop behind some popular crime films; Hostage: Do or Die [working title], an anthology of tales about kidnappings and their aftermath; Crimes of Passion, an examination of sociopaths who use sex to gull victims out of their fortunes (and, in some cases, their lives); and Real Streets: Miami, a sun-dappled cruise through the murderous streets of Dade County.

In August, ID bows Big Law: Deputy Butterbean, which follows 400-lb. former boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch as he rides shotgun with an Alabama county sherriff.

Returning series include: Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets; Disappeared; On the Case with Paula Zahn; I (Almost) Got Away with It; Sins & Secrets; True Crime with Aphrodite Jones; and Nothing Personal. All told, ID will encore 23 proven performers.

One show that will not be making a return engagement is James Ellroy’s L.A.: City of Demons. Though shot through with the novelist’s (L.A. Confidential, American Tabloid) signature jazzy riffs on sleaze and violence, this rogue’s tour through Tinsel Town’s tawdry past debuted to just 324,000 viewers on Jan. 19. 

Give him a crowd and Schleiff will try out his freshest stand-up comedy material; that said, the ID boss is playing his upfront spiel straight. “For the second year in a row, we’re entering the upfront as the leader in audience growth…and now we’re also the top network for distribution growth in television,” Schleiff said. “Most importantly, we are reaching to become a top-10 network by making the largest investment in original programming in the network’s history.”

The network is making progress on that score. In Q1, ID ranked 29th among all basic-cable nets in its core demo; a year ago, it finished the quarter in the 37 slot.

Advertising dollars have chased after those deliveries. According to an SNL Kagan analysis, ID in 2010 took in $75.5 million in net ad sales revenue, an increase of 79 percent from the year-ago $42.2 million.

Discovery Communications will hold its 2011-12 upfront presentation in New York on Thursday, April 14.