A few years ago, when Discovery Networks Intl. established its headquarters in a business park in leafy, suburban London, the move from parent Discovery Communications’ Silver Spring, Md., base was more than symbolic. It represented a statement of intent from the cable giant that operates 47 channel brands in 45 languages across 224 countries.
International is now Discovery’s growth engine — a fact illustrated earlier this year in the company’s second-quarter results, and reconfirmed Nov. 4 in third-quarter figures, in which Discovery’s international revenue grew by 32%, while domestic rose by just 1%. That’s a wider disparity than the earlier numbers, in which the company’s international revenue rose 23% as domestic slipped 2%, in what continues to be a tough market for traditional pay TV companies. International revenues in the second quarter outstripped U.S. revs $802 million to $777 million, an important milestone, according to J.B. Perrette, the former NBC-Universal digital maven who took over as head of DNI in January.
No one expects the trend to reverse any time soon, least of all Perrette, who moved to London in July. To say he’s hit the ground running is an understatement.
In his first six months as DNI president, Perrette finalized the $800 million acquisition of super-indie shingle All3-Media in a joint venture with Liberty Global (itself a Discovery stockholder) and upped Discovery’s investment in sports net Eurosport to 51% from 20%.
There’s talk, too, of other big plays in the British market. Media watchers have speculated about a possible Discovery bid for U.K. terrestrial giant ITV, and perhaps a joint-bid with pay-TV behemoth BSkyB for English Premier League soccer rights.
Meanwhile, Discovery and Liberty have opened talks to jointly acquire a stake in Formula One motor racing.
Whenever talk of acquisitions is put to Perrette, he confirms nothing, but neither does he deny anything. “We will look opportunistically at everything,” he says. “The reality, and this shows how far Discovery has come, is that we are rumored, rightly or wrongly, to be involved in almost every conversation. We will continue to look at everything, but we will do it with a very disciplined eye.”
In other words, expect more acquisitions in the months ahead.
Perrette, 43, who also takes care of the day-to-day business of DNI, has been a Discovery executive since 2006, when he joined the company to run the nascent digital operation. At NBCUniversal, he cut his teeth on the launch of online service, Hulu, and met his mentor, David Zaslav, now Discovery Communications’ CEO.
Clearly, Discovery Intl. is in growth mode. The key is in targeting the right opportunities in a hugely unpredictable media landscape. Perrette says that while DNI is big globally, it’s still earning low-single-digit shares in most markets. “In certain markets, we’ve done better,” he allows. In Italy, we’re the third largest broadcaster. In Scandinavia (where DNI owns free-to-air network SBS Nordic), we’re a much bigger player.”
A Hindi version of the network’s Investigation Discovery channel recently bowed in India, while a Danish version launched Nov. 1.
But challenges are rife. On a micro level, All3Media (the umbrella company for some 20 shingles) is still finding the best way to fit in with its new parent.
“What we like about All3Media is (its) great content,” Perrette says. Great storytelling will be the differentiator across all the devices that people watch content on.”
Shows produced out of London are becoming more important to DNI’s strategy. “We started out heavily developing content for the U.S. networks, taking that around the world,” Perrette recently told Blighty’s Royal Television Society. “That was the first pillar of Discovery’s existence. Increasingly, now, the second pillar, (in addition to) U.S.-to-global, (is) U.K.-to-global (content) from our international production team, created here in London. And that includes taking content back to the U.S.”
One example is the car-rehab series “Wheeler Dealers,” a British television series produced by Attaboy TV that airs in the U.S. on Discovery’s Velocity.
While the coming decade will include further changes in the way people consume TV, Perrette doesn’t seem fazed by what might lie ahead.
“In today’s media world you have to be a change agent,” he says. “You have to be someone who is willing to experiment. … And you have to be willing to think about reinvention.”