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Discovery CEO predicts 'carnage' in streaming wars

Daniel Roberts
Editor-at-Large

When Discovery acquired Scripps last year for nearly $15 billion, it added Food Network, Travel Channel, and HGTV to its channel lineup that already included Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC and OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network).

The obvious next step would be for Discovery (DISCA) to launch some kind of subscription streaming platform that offers content from all of its channels in one place. But for now, Discovery is tight-lipped on whether it will do that. On the company’s third-quarter earnings call earlier this month, CEO David Zaslav would only say, “We're looking now at whether we should just aggregate... all of our content in the U.S. and have something that looks very different, is very deep, has great personalities, great brands. And so, more to come on that in the next several months.”

Outside of the U.S., Discovery already has a range of over-the-top (OTT) ventures through partnerships with BBC, MLB spinoff BAM Tech, and golf’s European Tour. It also owns Eurosport, which Zaslav has said can become a “Netflix of sports” abroad. In the U.S., Discovery channels like Food Network and GolfTV have their own successful content apps, but Discovery doesn’t yet offer a kitchen-sink app for content from all its channels.

If and when Discovery does throw its hat into that very crowded ring, Zaslav argues it will be well positioned since all the other big names (he names Netflix, Disney, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, Starz) are focused on scripted shows and movies. Discovery mostly has unscripted shows. (He shirks the “reality television” label.)

“You have six or seven or eight players trying to be the dominant player in the entertainment pie,” Zaslav told Yahoo Finance in an interview at the Paley International Council Summit in New York last week. “And there’s going to be a lot of carnage. There will probably be three or four that are left, and the rest of them will tip over. Because they’re fighting for talent, fighting on price, fighting for the person that wants entertainment content. We’re not in that street fight. We own different kinds of content. We’re not in the scripted series and scripted movies business.”

Zaslav proudly adds that the Discovery portfolio has the No. 1 largest female TV audience in the U.S. “When people think, who’s the biggest media company in America, they think maybe it’s Time Warner or Disney or CBS. But all of our channels together aggregate a larger group of women in America than anyone else.”

Another competitive advantage Zaslav loves to tout (and so did Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels in a recent Yahoo Finance interview) is that Discovery owns all of its content outright (as did Scripps), whereas Netflix spends a lot to license content made by others, and even Disney spent billions to license its own content back from other platforms to put it on Disney+.

“We recognized very early that we need to own all of our content globally,” Zaslav says. “And so we have the flexibility to figure out how to offer it in different ways.”

Despite Zaslav’s confidence about Discovery’s distinct content lineup, a Discovery OTT offering in the U.S. would still be competing with a now comically overcrowded field of subscription apps from players big and small. It would still be competing with the entertainment big dogs for share of wallet.

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav is interviewed by host Maria Bartiromo on the "Mornings with Maria" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Apart from its streaming ambitions, the big question about Discovery will be: What might it buy next? The company will close 2019 with $2.9 billion in cash on hand, and as Zaslav acknowledges, over the next four or five years it will have $10 billion to $15 billion in cash.

Zaslav knows what onlookers are wondering. “What do we do with it? The focus for us is going to be, are there other great companies or great I.P. out there? We will look to invest in I.P. or sustainable assets to make us stronger. We’re outperforming our competitors, we got a lot of cash, and I think this could be a very good time for us, over the next year or two, to build growth and momentum.”

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer and show host at Yahoo Finance and closely covers media and streaming. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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