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Discovery Readies New Mobile Series

May 14, 2007  •  Post A Comment

In one of the largest commitments by a programmer to the mobile TV business, Discovery Communications plans to launch 14 new made-for-mobile series.

The content company wants to lay a strong mobile foundation because it’s already generating incremental revenue from mobile television license fees and is betting that within a year mobile television advertising will further boost its bottom line.

The 14 shows, which start rolling out this month and will continue to launch through the end of the year, cover Discovery-centric topics such as green living, technology of the future, animal factoids, quirky science topics and motorcycles.

Discovery’s aggressive mobile ramp-up occurs as cable networks and operators react to the changes the Internet is wreaking on the television ad market. Most experts are expecting ad dollars for the TV upfront to be flat to down this year, so networks are eager to grow new advertising opportunities. Though mobile advertising is in its infancy, the medium holds great promise for marketers because it’s personalized and because mobile technology evolves quickly.

“It’s crucial that our content is easily accessible to anyone and everyone with a video-capable phone,” said Clint Stinchcomb, executive VP and general manager for Discovery’s emerging networks group. Mobile video consumption also skews younger, so jumping out ahead in mobile TV gives Discovery the chance to reach the younger demo on the cell phone.

Discovery expects to place distinct mobile ads in Discovery Mobile content by the end of the summer. The media company also plans to explore commerce models that let viewers click through for more information or to make a purchase.

The market for mobile advertising in the United States last year reached $421 million and should grow to $4.8 billion in 2011, according to market research firm eMarketer. The number of mobile video subscribers in the U.S. grew to 6.2 million by the end of 2006, up from 2.5 million at the start of 2006, according to mobile research firm Telephia.

Discovery’s early push into mobile parallels the distribution path it took with its high-definition network back in 2002, when only a few hundred thousand homes had hi-def sets. Now, the network is fully distributed just as HD set purchases are skyrocketing.

Mobile TV has an advantage over other new media forms such as video-on-demand because most carriers expect to be able to dynamically insert targeted ads within a year, whereas VOD experts don’t expect ubiquity in ad insertion for three to five years.

Consumers replace their telephone handsets every 18 months. “That is a forced accelerator in mobile,” said Doug Craig, VP of programming and new media operations at Discovery.

Other cable networks are aggressively pursuing mobile TV too. NBC recently signed a deal to offer some prime-time series on both Verizon and MobiTV phones, while MTV Networks signed agreements with Pepsi-Cola and Intel to sponsor MTV and Comedy Central mobile channels.

The Discovery commitment is noteworthy because of its scope and because the content provider is producing a raft of shows for mobile. Discovery will do that by digging into its library, creating new programs and shooting made-for-mobile material related to on-air shows. Mr. Stinchcomb declined to specify the investment in the shows, but did say it represents a small fraction of a TV budget.

However, Discovery will use promotional time on its linear networks to drive viewers to mobile TV and will also use the mobile content to promote back to the network. “If you really want to explode the value, you find a way to use mobile to enhance other mediums,” said John du Pre Gauntt, senior analyst with eMarketer.

Each episode in the new slate of shows will be about three to four minutes long and focus on a knowledge nugget that viewers can take away from the show, Mr. Craig said. For instance, the upcoming mobile series “Green Gadgets” covers new gizmos that help people live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Discovery Mobile, which has four or five series currently running, is carried on Sprint, MobiTV, SmartVideo and Amp’d phones.

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