Discovery Communications’ cash flow from operations decreased due to higher content spend, but CEO David Zaslav assured investors that it’s not a sign the network is moving into more costly scripted series.
“Scripted is not the core of what we do. It’s part of a tentpole [strategy],” said Zaslav during today’s earnings call, referring to “Harley and the Davidsons,” calling the series a “treat” for viewers.
That 2016 mini-series, which chronicled the rise of American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, was expensive, Zaslav said, but performed well in both Discovery’s U.S. and international markets. In that sense, Zaslav said the show was a success, but that its performance didn’t mean Discovery planned to shift away from its primary focus on unscripted and documentary style content and IP.
“We don’t see cost being an issue and we’re not moving more into scripted, which is more expensive,” Zaslav said.
In addition to Discovery’s programming mix moving forward, Zaslav also addressed increasing competition from Nat Geo, in which 21st Century Fox is increasing its investment.
“We’re focused on what they’re doing … they’re very good,” said Zaslav, but he added that Discovery has advantages over the network and that Discovery is number one against Nat Geo in almost every market.
Interestingly, Discovery’s recent retrans dustup with Sky in Europe was rumored to be tied to Fox both increasing its Nat Geo investment and pursuing full ownership of Sky. Discovery and Sky eventually reached a new carriage deal, but not before a public fight saw Sky accuse Discovery of asking too much for its channels while Discovery accused Sky of using “alternative facts.”
Besides its rivalry with Nat Geo, Discovery is also contending with challenges from History Channel, to which Zaslav gave credit for snapping Discovery out of its funk.
“History woke us up a few years ago. Six or seven years ago we were cheating on the brand,” said Zaslav, saying that competition from both History and Nat Geo “made us better.”