UPDATED: Discovery and BBC Studios have inked a nearly $400 million programming deal that will see high-end natural history programming from the latter play on a new Discovery global streaming service set for launch by 2020. Under a decade-long deal, Discovery has acquired a raft of BBC content for its new SVOD service and will work with BBC Studios, the U.K. pubcaster’s production and distribution unit, to develop new programming across natural history, travel, science and other factual genres.
Discovery CEO and president David Zaslav said the new, as-yet-unnamed streamer could launch for under $5 a month.
Separately, the two companies have untangled ownership of the UKTV channels group, with Discovery set to take the lifestyle networks and BBC Studios the entertainment channels in a deal that will see BBC Studios pay the U.S. firm £173 million ($226 million).
The announcement Monday of Discovery’s upcoming factual streaming platform comes as the company moves further into direct-to-consumer offerings, adding to its Dplay, Eurosport Player, PGA golf, motoring and cycling services. With competition on the factual side getting fiercer as Netflix brings its commissioning might to the natural history arena, Discovery is now seeking to claim ownership of that space in the streaming world. Zaslav told reporters that its new offering would be the definitive service.
Zaslav called the BBC content the “Marvel IP” of the factual world and said there would be original programming just for the streaming service and wraparound content including news, games, and podcasts.
Discovery has now acquired hundreds of hours of BBC Studios fare to serve as the new platform’s cornerstone. The new £300 million ($392 million) programming deal covers global rights to blue-chip BBC franchises such as “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet,” except in China, and the U.K., where the BBC will be able to add that content to its own services, including its soon-to-launch streamer BritBox.
Discovery and BBC Studios will also develop new natural history titles together, reviving an earlier relationship that produced such joint endeavors as “Planet Earth,” “Walking With Dinosaurs” and “Life.”
“The new platform will be the first global direct-to-consumer service with the category’s most iconic IP, including the ‘Planet Earth’ series, future sequels and spinoffs to all existing landmark series, and new exclusive natural history and science programming coming in the future,” Zaslav said in a statement announcing the service’s launch. “There is tremendous value in the marketplace for these programming categories, which have broad appeal and strong multi-generational engagement, and we hope to fill the void in the global marketplace for a dedicated high-quality product.”
“This is our largest-ever content sales deal,” added BBC boss Tony Hall. “It will mean BBC Studios and Discovery will work together to take our content right across the globe through a new world-beating streaming service. Global subscribers are in for a real treat: the best content on a great new platform.”
Aside from its new deal with Discovery, BBC Studios has been working with AMC Networks on natural history projects. The BBC and AMC are partners in the BBC America service and have a natural history programming deal that covered shows including “Frozen Planet II” and “One Planet: Seven Worlds.” AMC will retain linear rights to those shows and air them first, but they will play on the Discovery streamer in the U.S. on SVOD.
Netflix currently has BBC blue chip shows including “Blue Planet” and “Planet Earth,” but these will come off the platform once current deals expire.
Meanwhile, the UKTV deal will see Discovery take ownership of the Good Food, Home and Really channels, which will fall under the leadership of EVP James Gibbons. The Alibi, Dave, Drama, Eden, Gold, Yesterday and W channels, plus the on-demand UKTV Play service, now go to BBC Studios, along with the UKTV brand. Marcus Arthur, BBC Studios’ U.K. and Australasia chief, will become the new UKTV CEO, replacing Darren Childs, who had already said he was exiting. The BBC told Variety that it will maintain the UKTV base in West London.
UKTV was a joint venture between the BBC and Scripps. Negotiations over ownership accelerated after Discovery bought the latter.
Hall said that the UKTV deal means a secure future with long-term commercial returns. The UKTV team has done a fantastic job, and I am delighted that will continue.”