In Depth

Bill Goodwyn, Discovery's President, Domestic Distribution and Enterprises

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TVWeek: Bill, we've known each other for over 20 years. You've been at Discovery since 1987. I hope this doesn't sound too overwhelming, but we'd love you to talk about how the Discovery networks have evolved to the lineup you have today. 

Bill Goodwyn: If you go back to 1985 when the Hendricks first launched Discovery Channel, his vision was to provide viewers an offering that could empower, enlighten, entertain and educate all at the same time. He wanted a knowledge based channel that could really change the way that people would view TV. At the time, as you know Chuck, there were sports channels or movie channels, news channels. There was nothing really about enlightenment. The success of Discovery was like a wildfire. It was something that was so new and so innovative and gave everybody that “aha” moment.

TVWeek: And I think almost from the beginning you were embraced by most of the MSOs.

Goodwyn: The cable operators were trying to sign people up for cable and they actually had something different from news, sports or movies. And so they were so excited, as you mentioned, to embrace the channel, so when I got here in ’87 it was just an incredible opportunity to get distribution ramped up to the network.

I think we grew to up to 50 million subs in just maybe three years. Again, this is off the top of my head. But it’s just because our interests were aligned with the cable operators. We were going to give them high quality content to really enrich viewers’ lives. And at the same time it gave cable something else to say this is why you need cable television.

The growth for both, for the distributors to sign people up and for the network to really gain the subs. It was just a perfect synergy. From that success, then TLC was out there for many years, we bought it in ’91. It had 14 million subs. Very little affiliate revenue. It didn’t have legitimate contracts with cable operators. So we took it, and basically, because of the relationships and because of the quality of our performance we did on Discovery, the affiliates embraced TLC and we got that rolled out so it became fully distributed.

Then you move into 1996 and John [Hendricks] really knew that operators still were looking for high quality content. And there was still opportunity to engage viewers. And what he did was look at the popularity of Discovery. And their viewers would love a nature show. They might watch one at eight o’clock on Discovery, then we’d go to a science show at nine. Then if people wanted to watch more nature shows, or learn more about the natural world there was no place for them to go. So we had enough viewer feedback to really drive the decision to launch Animal Planet in ’96.

At the same time, cable operators were beginning to expand their capacity through digital. They needed quality services to drive digital so, at that time, in addition to launching Animal Planet, we also launched a number of emerging networks digital channels. There was science, there was civilization, there was wings, you know, military. A number of networks. It was a great opportunity for us, again this is the beauty of working for someplace like Discovery. Hendricks is always thinking five, ten years out. How could we help the distributors? Where’s this business headed?

So he thought on the linear side with Discovery. He thought on the digital side and we were the first out of the gate to launch digital channels to help cable operators drive viewers to digital. At the time with digital, there wasn’t VOD, there wasn’t a navigator, there wasn’t digital music. There wasn’t multiplex. There really wasn’t much to get viewers to drive to digital. It wasn’t in HD, so we had to give them more quality services. So, that’s really the opportunity we maximized by getting those networks carried.

Fast forward a little bit, and since then, HD and so forth, we’ve been a leader in that.

Then there' s been what David has really done by coming in here. He’s done a few things. The first thing he did was, he instilled a performance-based culture. So he wanted to make people accountable, he wanted to give them the authority to basically do the right thing for the network. And what that meant for the company was getting the company back on brand. First and foremost.

He wanted, number one, to get the company back to its roots and its mission. Two, put the right people in the right spots. Create a performance-based culture. And three, make the channels better. Put the money in the quality programming. So, all the things that he has been doing are all driven to those three outcomes. To those three goals. So it’s been fabulous, for me, just watching the difference in the last couple of years, and then for the quality that he’s bringing into the company.

When you look at the announcement of Peter Liguori. Then we have a fantastic CFO he brought in last year, a guy named Brad Singer. He’s incredibly talented. Mark Hollinger has been here for many, many years. Mark’s great, [he was our COO and now] he’s going to be running international. So the thing about David  is he really wants to grow, and to do that he’s got to get the right people. He’s got to create the culture to make sure it’s always performance-based and make sure that everyone is true to the mission, which is stay on brand and spend money to make these channels and networks great.

TVWeek: You're also in charge of Discovery Education.

Goodwyn: Yes. So with science, Obama’s very concerned. He had a speech in April. It was all about science and literacy and how the country’s falling behind. I think we were number 21st or 25th across the world in science and math. And it’s an alarming, it’s a huge wake up call.

It’s a big problem because ultimately, we’re not going to be competitive as a country in the next ten, 20, 40 years unless we do a better job of getting people engaged in science and math and technology and engineering. As is typical,  Hendricks and David, basically they heard Obama’s April speech and gathered a number of people within the company and said, we’ve got some great assets. What can we do about this? So we got together with the Science Channel folks and our Clark Bunting, we got together with Discovery Education, myself and a number of other people and said, okay what can we do? So at Science channel, we’re creating some great programming that’s going to get kids engaged and excited about science because if you can’t get them excited about science by the time they’re in middle school--if you wait until they’re in high school--you’ve lost them. You’ve got to engage them at the middle school years and you’ve got to make science fun.

And as part of that, you’ve got to relate the science programming in the classroom with why their learning it. Kids want to know why it’s important for them to learn. Well, a lot of it, they need to tie to careers. So part of the education initiative that we’re doing not only on the channel, but also with Discovery Education, is providing the resources to the teachers in the classroom to provide a better understanding of careers and resources so kids will understand why it’s important to know about physics and why they’re learning these math principals. 

So all of a sudden [we connect the dots so what they are learning] takes them to the guy who developed the rocket that took the astronauts to the moon. So it’s making science accessible. It’s making science fun. It’s making engineering and technology principles accessible to kids. So we have a huge footprint on the television side with all the networks. We have an incredible footprint and platform into classroom where teachers use educational curriculum based content that’s customized by state, that’s customized by subject matter, that’s customized by grade. And it gives them a chance to get kids engaged and inspired about learning with video, with text, with graphics, with stills, with music, with eBooks, with all the properties that we have into the classroom.

We’re in about 60, 65 percent of all public schools across the country. So we can provide even more resources to teachers because, unfortunately, the education budgets have been cut dramatically as you know, and 2009 was a tough year. They don’t have the resources to buy an education package or education resources.

So what we’re going to do is provide those resources at no cost to all of the schools that use the Discovery educational services. The whole idea is to engage students, to affect student achievement. And that’s what it’s all about. So that is part of the great thing to work for a company like this. We’re really in the life improvement business. That’s basically what it is, whether you’re a student, whether you’re a teacher and you want to get kids more excited about learning, or whether you’re a viewer and you want to understand about the world and explore it and satisfy your curiosity. Whether it’s Planet Earth last year or whether it’s "Curiosity," coming up in 2011, it’s just a fantastic place to work because you’re doing things to help people live better lives.#

To read our interview with David Zaslav, Discovery President and CEO, click here.

To read our interview with Discovery's Bruce Campbell, President, Digital Media and Corporate Development, 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 Marjorie Kaplan, President and General Manager, Animal Planet Media Enterprises, click here.

To read our interview with Laura Michalchyshyn, President and General Manager, Planet Green, Discovery Health and FitTV, click here.

To read our interview with Joe Abruzzese, President of Advertising Sales for Discovery Communications, 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.