Upfront News and Views: Discovery Downsizes Its Presentation But Still Makes an Impact

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Venue: 10 On the Park, the dining space on the E. 60th St. end of the Time Warner Center and right around the corner from Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall, site of Discovery's celebrated multi-hour Upfront presentations most of the last decade. Good view of the midtown Manhattan skyline on two sides of the room. Plentiful assortment of breakfast favorites from bagels to quiche bites. Grade: 3 Jacks

Presentation: It didn't take long for Discovery Communications' Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav and associates to hit their talking points. In summary: Most of what gets generated from the company's $2 billion programming budget this year will get a worldwide audience, therefore becoming more valuable to advertisers. "We really are a purpose-driven company," Zaslav stated. "Our big focus is on worldwide content. We want to maximize linear TV while challenging digital TV." One way or another, material from Discovery's 14 basic/digital basic U.S. channels will play in more than 200 countries -- via Discovery-managed networks -- fueling a 20 percent increase in international revenues. Even Eurosport, the pan-continent network Discovery acquired last year (not carried in the U.S.) received valuable presentation time. From there, upcoming content was highlighted network-by-network, after which Zaslav, new Discovery Channel President Rich Ross, TLC/Animal Planet President Marjorie Kaplan and other executives conducted a question-and-answer session. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

News: Going in, expectations were for Discovery Channel to become A) more culture-driven and family-friendly and less reliant on stunts in new programming and B) set at least one scripted series in motion. Ross didn't disappoint on either count. In the A category: “Lunar XPRIZE” (covering Google's international competition to land a robot on the moon next year, including live transmission from the moon), “Pacific Warriors” (Hawaii residents who fish by kayak) and “Racing Extinction” (endangered species documentary special from the makers of “The Cove” and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen). Moving on to the B category, Discovery will dive into scripted seas with “Harley-Davidson,” about the formation of the worldwide motorcycle maker (from Gold Rush's production company).

Staying with scripted, Investigation Discovery will offer its first miniseries this summer: Three-part “Serial Thriller” (by October Films) about the crimes of a notorious serial killer. Also on ID's docket: Barbara Walters' TV return with “American Scandal” (on the order of Jean Harris, Jim Bakker and other subjects Walters covered at ABC) and “Death By Gossip,” hosted by Wendy Williams. Other attractions from Discovery channels include the intriguing off the bat include “#SaveMyStyle” (TLC), “Sheriff of Cross River” and “Restoration Wild” (Animal Planet), “Secret Space Disasters” (Science Channel), “An Hour to Save Your Life” (Discovery Life Channel) and “American Empire” (American Heroes Channel).

Absent from the rundown: Oprah Winfrey Network, which disclosed its news a week earlier at an advertiser-only dinner, and Discovery's Spanish-language services (En Espanol/Familia) which may do their own event in mid-May. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Host: Engaging turn by Zaslav, who always comes over at ease in front of a crowd. Ditto Ross, Kaplan and company, who unlike previous years didn't have celebrities from their channels on hand to assist. Grade: 3.5 Jacks.

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks The extravagant stage antics may be gone for now, but the presentation and news value was on solid ground. Special kudos to Discovery's video clip producers who year after year deliver among the best vignettes of any Upfront event. Two standouts here: The opening "Moment of Pure Discovery" in honor of the flagship channel's 30th anniversary this summer, and Discovery ad sales chief Joe Abruzzese's amusing homage to the Jean-Claude Van Damme "Only Time" message.

Next up: CMT with its first showcase as part of Viacom's Kids & Family network group.

5 Jacks – Excellent
4 Jacks – Very Good
3 Jacks – Good
2 Jacks – Fair
1 Jack – Poor
0 Jacks – Worse than bad

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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