TVWeek: Hi Bruce. You have a lot of the strategic responsibility at Discovery. Tell us about that. One of the things that’s been most impressive since David has come aboard is that clearly his mandate has been one of transformation as Discovery prepares for the future. You’re taking a company that’s been very successful and are not waiting for a down cycle, but are taking it to the next level. Part of that is a world that’s becoming evermore sophisticated in its media and entertainment consumption, a lot of which is driven by a world that’s also becoming evermore sophisticated in how it uses various digital tools.
Could you talk to us about your role on the digital side and what you’ve already brought to the table. And I know you’ve had a lot to do with the new deals with Oprah and with Hasbro.
Bruce Campbell: My role is kind of split in half, basically. On the one hand there is the corporate development activity, which is all the transactional work at the company which includes OWN and Hasbro–sort of framing our own corporate strategic plan.
Then there’s the more specific operation of the digital assets of themselves and the digital strategy. And within that second digital bucket are our websites, all of our mobile businesses, our video-on-demand content. The actual videos on demand deals get done by our affiliate distribution team. And then also our Commerce business. Now it is wrapped into a combined digital media in Commerce business. That’s where I sort of have operational responsibilities.
TVWeek: What do you think of the TV Everywhere initiative, and do you think it’s the right direction to go?
Campbell: We have been very conservative about putting video out online. We’ve done very little in the way of long form video. Largely everything we’ve done is short clips. We’re very fortunate in that being in the nonfiction space, our content lends itself very well with two to three minute clips. We’ve been able to make a nice little business around that without doing that in long form
Long form has the duel concern for us of both potentially cannibalizing our ratings but also alienating our traditional distribution partners. Now that said, because authentication is really coming as much from the MSOs as anyone, we are engaging in experiments with them, most notably with Comcast.
I think that the key for us will be, if authentication can be done in a way that we can somehow cume the online ratings with our on-air ratings–somehow package those together with advertisers so that we don’t risk cannibalizing the on-air product–then I think it becomes a real win-win situation for both us and the operators.
There are a lot of things that have to fall into place before we get to that point, but because that could be a positive scenario for us, we are spending the time to go through the experiments right now. Or the tests.
TVWeek: That makes sense. Could you put on your other strategic hat for a moment and tell us a little bit about your role with the company’s partnering with Hasbro and Oprah and, from your point of view, why those things made sense for Discovery.
Campbell: For all the successes that the current team has had over the past two or three years, we were clearly the beneficiaries of some fantastic foresight by John Hendricks and the team that started Discovery. We’re all very proud of what we’ve done. We also walked into a company that had 13 great platforms in the United States and literally over a hundred outside the United States. So great real estate.
But David saw very early on that some of these, while they were very well positioned, didn’t have the content strategy to make them grow. In fact, David called me, even before I came to Discovery, to sort of make that pitch. To say, there is great real estate here and it’s untapped. We can do something special with some of these networks. And of course, some of those we transformed organically. Most notably Investigation Discovery, which I’m sure you’ve heard about.
TVWeek: Yes, we spoke to Henry Schleiff.
Campbell: Then we looked at some of the other platforms. You almost have to take them each individually. Look at Discovery Health. It has great reach. It’s in over 70 million homes. But it did not have much of a sub fee. In fact very limited sub fees. So David and I and others said to each other, what can we really do to reinvent that network in a way that operators are really going to pay for it? Who’s a personality or what’s the new content that we can bring to the network to really take it to an entirely different level from a distributor’s perspective?
TVWeek: And OWN?
Campbell: David, to his credit, was the one who came up with the idea of Oprah and he and I and [then company COO] Mark Hollinger went out and made a pitch to her in the summer of 2007. And she completely agreed with David’s vision. So everything just aligned the right way and the fact that she was willing to contribute Oprah.com into the venture. All of a sudden we went from having this underdeveloped channel to a whole multimedia platform around this iconic brand. And that was the right strategy for Discovery Health.
Now if you look at Discovery Kids, we looked at that property and said, as great as Discovery is at creating family friendly programming, we’re really not in the specific children’s space in a meaningful way. And, in fact, you have some really strong competitors there with Disney and Nickelodeon. So, we’re not going to win just by going out on our own and buying content and trying to sell advertising against it. We need someone who’s brings a unique skill set to that channel. So I initiated the dialogue with the Hasbro guys knowing that they were out looking at trying to expand their media strategy beyond just film to areas like gaming and television.
And we really just hit it off from day one with Brian Goldner, the CEO there. And for us, we now have this deep library of their iconic children’s brand but at the same time they bring in a merchandising expertise and a licensing expertise that we just didn’t have internally. So, again, for that platform that was the right strategy.
TVWeek: What made you think that Hasbro would be something that would fit, since it will have a lot of fiction as opposed to nonfiction? That’s not a model you’ve done here in the U.S.
Campbell: That will be an exception, and I think while we’ll continue to have some of the good nonfiction stuff on there that Discovery Kids has today, we recognize that to really resonate with children you have to bring in a fictional element. So some of their iconic brands, like Transformers for example, that will appear on the network in a fictional form. So it’s really gonna be a hybrid. And as a parent, kids just want to watch entertaining content. I don’t think they look at a network based on whether it’s fiction or not. They just want to be entertained and nourished and I think, together with Hasbro and the Discovery library, we have a unique opportunity to do that now.
TVWeek: You’ve touched a little on your relationship with David. You’re one of the few people here that have known him for a long time–over a decade I understand. How did David entice you to come to Discovery, and what excites you to work with him?
Campbell: I first started to work with David in 1997 when I joined NBC in the legal department and I had the opportunity to work with him for well over
TVWeek: So I’m assuming you’re a lawyer also?
Bruce: Yeah. I started out as a lawyer, that’s how I started out at NBC. But I’ve been in business development now for about ten years. David’s just got that unique combination of both vision, and the energy and determination to see things through to execution. So when David started talking to me about the opportunities at Discovery, around these other developed platforms, around the international businesses, around the digital strategy, I knew that it was more than just lip service.
That in his mind, not only did he see the opportunity and had the vision to see the opportunity, he was going to put all his energy behind it and make sure everyone else did so we’d really get something done. And I think the Oprah transaction is a great example of that. David is nothing if not thorough. He doesn’t leave things hanging out there. He really wants to see us strive to execution. I saw the opportunity with this company. I’ve been a fan of Discovery for a long time, we always kind of tracked Discovery at NBC, so I always knew there were great assets there, but mixing it with David’s energy and enthusiasm just seemed like the perfect combination.
Again, on the digital side: In addition to the video, where we really have focused on doing as much as we can with our good short form content, the other thing we’ve really tried to do over the past two years is take our websites and make them much more than just show sites. We want to represent knowledge and curiosity as strongly online as we do on air. So we made a couple of acquisitions early on with How Stuff Works and Tree Hugger.
We now have a fully integrated set of online properties that people are now going to because they’re curious and because they want to learn more about categories like green, like science, like technology, even if they are not necessarily day-to-day fans of our shows. And I think that’s been the underpinning of our digital strategy and how we’re going to continue to drive those businesses so that they are in fact businesses on a standalone basis and not just promotional sites for our shows. So that’s another big part of our strategy.#
To read our interview with David Zaslav, Discovery President and CEO, click here.
To read our interview with Bill Goodwyn, Discovery’s President, Domestic Distribution and Enterprises, click here.
To read our interview with Henry Schleiff, Discovery’s President and General Manager, Investigation Discovery, Military Channel and HD Theater, click here.
To read our interview with Majorie Kaplan, President and General Manager of Animal Planet Media Enterprises, click here.
To read our interview with Laura Michalchyshyn, President and General Manager of Planel Green, Discovery Health and FitTV, click here
To read our interview with Joe Abruzzese, President, Advertising Sales for Discovery Communications, click here
To read our interview with Eileen O’Neill, President and General Manager, TLC, click here
To read our interview with Clark Bunting, President and General Manager of the Discovery Channel, click here
To read our interview with Carole Tomko, President and General Manager of Discovery Studios, click here.
To read our interview with Mark Hollinger, President and CEO, Discovery Networks International, click here.