Discovery's Spin-off Strategy Is a Winner for Advertisers and Viewers Alike

By Warner Bros. Discovery InSites Archives
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Audiences can't seem to get enough of the real-life casts of characters that occupy Discovery Channel's Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. Each evening is anchored by one of the network's most popular series -- Street Outlaws, Moonshiners and Gold Rush -- and then paired with shows spun off from the motherships to keep fans stuck to their screens all night long. And that's provided some rich opportunities for advertisers.

A look at the numbers helps explain why the spinoff strategy is so effective. In the fourth quarter of 2021, Discovery had four of basic cable's top unscripted series among men 25-54. The franchise anchor Gold Rush (pictured at top) and spinoff series Gold Rush: White Water were second and fourth, while distilling series Moonshiners was eighth, and drag-racing series Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings was 10th.

Discovery emerged from 2021 with three of the top-10 unscripted basic cable series among men 18-49 with Gold Rush in second, Street Outlaws in sixth and Gold Rush: White Water in seventh.

Where audiences travel, advertisers follow.

"When a network strategy aligns with a sales strategy, [it creates] more sales and marketing opportunities," said Scott Kohn, Executive Vice President of National Advertising Sales, overseeing Discovery, Motor Trend, Science and Animal Planet. "This strategy has provided opportunities for growth in the current environment when all we are hearing about linear is that it's contracting. [The strategy] has created an environment where our advertisers can reach large audiences with less frequency."

Kohn noted that consistency is important. "When we're able to create a block of programming, it helps our viewers invest more [time] in the content and more in our clients' messaging," he said. Because the programming features real people doing what they'd be doing whether the camera is on them or not, a bond of affection is created with viewers and that accrues to the brands. "Having them on our air throughout the night holds audiences' attention longer," Kohn added.

Each of the three franchises conjures entirely different worlds for viewers. Street Outlaws, in which drivers race fast cars through the streets of Oklahoma City, "became more of a sport for Discovery than a docu-follow of epic jobs, like Deadliest Catch or Gold Rush. Now we're continuing to evolve what the next level up for that franchise is with gamification and storylines," said Scott Lewers, Executive Vice President of Multi-Platform Programming and Digital Media for Discovery and Science Channels.

Lewers was referencing the video games that have been spun out of that show: Street Outlaws: The List and Street Outlaws: Winner Takes All. Discovery also airs a spinoff: Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings.

"Gold Rush is more personality- and equipment-driven," Lewers said. "It's like Tonka Toys for men." Gold has aired on Discovery for 12 seasons and is that network's most popular series. In 2021, Gold Rush and two of its spinoffs, Gold Rush: White Waterand Gold Rush: The Dirt, were basic cable's highest-rated series among men 25-54 on Friday nights. In 2021, Discovery added Gold Rush: Freddy Dodge's Mine Rescue and in 2022, Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch.

Meanwhile, Moonshiners, which is in its 11th season on Discovery Channel, focuses on people who distill liquor in the Appalachian mountains. A spinoff competition series, Moonshiners: Master Distillers, sees both legal and outlaw distillers face off to see who can do the best job brewing various liquors, such as rum, gin, absinthe and cherry bounce.

The idea is to not just keep serving viewers helpings of the same fare but to mix things up enough to keep them turned in and interested. For example, Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch, which airs at 10 pm ET/PT on Friday nights, is about something paranormal and mysterious as well as about gold mining. "It's not part of the Gold Rush franchise but it is Gold Rush adjacent," Lewers said.

"My favorite thing to do while in primetime is to watch the social media feed," Lewers said. "It's like a national focus group. When you see the trend of a character or episode or storyline take off all of a sudden, you are like, 'There must be more here.'"

Beyond just taking advantage of the consistent audience this programming strategy produces, Discovery also works closely with select advertisers to build custom-branded content around the programming.

"We combine the Discovery brands -- whether that's the network, show or characters -- with the client's brand. And in that equation one plus one equals way more than two," Kohn said. "It's always a partnership. We know our brands better than our clients do, and they know their brands better than we do."

Discovery's team is also selective about how it produces and airs branded content so that it's engaging for viewers and premium for advertisers. "We would never put a product or message in a show that's going to damage any of the brands," Kohn said.

Discovery also makes a point of encouraging viewers to check out the discovery+ streaming service, and that's another opportunity for advertisers. "discovery+'s ad-supported version has a much shorter commercial pod [than is typical for ad-supported streaming platforms]. And that provides a premium environment for our advertisers," Kohn said.

"Advertisers are rooting for our success, and they are excited when there's a show that becomes a franchise because that gives them that consistency," Kohn said. "For example, 52 weeks a year, there is Gold Rush content on Discovery Channel on Friday nights."

For Lewers, it's about constantly looking toward what's next: "Our future is going to be about building brands that are strong and relevant on all platforms. We don't want to shy away from the new ones, but we do want to continue to embrace the legacy ones," he said.

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