Palin deal reinforces power of Discovery

The news last week that Sarah Palin’s eight-part series about Alaska had been bought by Discovery Communications in a deal worth a little less than $1-million an episode will be rightly seen by many in the industry as another sign of how powerful the Discovery brand has become in the 25 years of its existence.

Started in 1985 by John Hendricks as “an entertainment channel about learning”, Discovery Communications now has approximately 1,5-billion subscribers in 170 countries.

So what is the secret of Discovery’s success? Although it is best known for the nature documentaries and travelogues that air on the flagship Discovery channel — the David Attenborough series Life, revoiced for the United States by Oprah Winfrey, recently attracted an audience of 33,8-million viewers on its debut.

Other companies backed off after learning that the series featuring the former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate would not be a reality show like The Osbournes, but Discovery was not deterred.

For whereas its rivals would have desperately needed Palin family dramas to justify the price tag, Discovery knows that Palin-haters may well tune in to marvel at Alaska’s beautiful landscape if they’re also nature lovers. Yet although it is being billed as a cross between nature documentary and travelogue, the series will air not on Discovery but on reality-heavy TLC.

“TLC is grounded in great storytelling, strong characters and passionate audiences drawn to extraordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said the channel’s president and general manager, Eileen O’Neill, when the Palin deal was announced. “We are confident that Sarah Palin’s Alaska will be another compelling television event.”

In other words, it’s worth taking a $8-million shot on it because you never know when the travelogue might stop and the tantrums begin. —

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