Hollywood’s frantic streaming wars have upended the industry — and some of the ways have been more surprising than others.
A+E Networks and Discovery have long been fierce TV rivals, battling for attention from consumers who are fixated on unscripted programming about history, nature and just plain bizarre people from odd walks of life. A+E is known for series such as “Storage Wars” and “Ice Road Truckers,” while Discovery has boosted shows including “Naked and Afraid” and “My Big Fat Fabulous Life.”
In the race to gain TV ratings, neither company would lift a finger to help the other. In the battle to win streaming-video subscriptions, well, it’s a very different story.
Discovery captured industry attention last week when it unveiled its Discovery Plus streaming service. Among the programs from its proprietary cable outlets, like TLC and Food Network, are a selection of series from some of A+E’s most popular channels. “We will provide a service with more brands, from HGTV to Lifetime, Food to A&E, Discovery to History,” said David Zaslav, chairman and CEO of Discovery, in a presentation last week. An unsuspecting customer might not even realize that A+E holdings like Lifetime, A&E and History are owned by one of Discovery’s most obvious competitors.
The alliance is the latest signal that all bets are off when it comes to getting some of the new revenues expected from the streaming business. Discovery and A+E aren’t the only ones striking eyebrow-raising content pacts. One of the selling points of NBCUniversal’s new Peacock hub is that it offers Warner Bros.’ “Two and a Half Men” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” a sitcom produced by HBO and David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants.
Simply put, companies that launch subscription-driven streaming outlets need to give consumers reasons to part with their dollars — and not all of those reasons are likely to be found under their own umbrella. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, for example, is using ViacomCBS’ “South Park” to lure fans to the service. Discovery could also seek out other outlets’ nonfiction programs for its streaming use.
Other companies simply lack the heft required to start an independent streaming hub. A+E Networks is jointly owned by Walt Disney and Hearst, and has found new revenue streams by licensing its properties to Peacock and Hulu as well as Discovery. The company controls licensing rights to tens of thousands of hours of library content, and has continued to catch the public’s fancy with series such as the now-canceled “Live PD” or the long-running “Pawn Stars.”
A+E isn’t likely to take its eye off its TV business. “Our primary focus is still on our linear brands and creating content for our linear brands,” the company said in a statement.
That means many players might be able to ask for streaming rights. Discovery approached A+E about the chance to use some of its programming for its new outlet several months ago, according to a person familiar with the matter. With more than three decades of programs under its control, A+E may keep getting similar requests in the future.