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Discovery’s Zaslav expands on ‘factual Marvel library’ SVOD plan

Discovery boss David Zaslav has likened the business’s whopping nine-figure deal for BBC content to an attempt to build a “Marvel library” for factual content.

David Zaslav

“Not only do we have the entire library, but now we have spin-offs and new series coming out of those brands that will be able to delight audiences all over the world. For us, it’s a great opportunity to differentiate [our offering],” said the exec, speaking to CNBC after Discovery and the BBC confirmed plans for a natural history-focused global SVOD service.

Set to roll out in 2020, the Discovery-led platform will be powered by the BBC’s natural history content – plans that were first reported in February. The 10-year content deal, worth £300 million (€350 million), is effective in all territories outside the UK, Ireland and Greater China, and will make Discovery the exclusive global home of BBC landmark natural history programmes in SVOD, including Planet EarthBlue Planet and Life.

The BBC and Discovery have also agreed to invest in content together and hope to attract new talent to their joint fund for content creation.

“It’s going to be expensive, but it’s the business that we’re in,” said Zaslav of the new venture, hinting that a monthly subscription for the SVOD will cost around US$5 per month.

As for whether the move may be considered defensive in light of Netflix’s first major natural history offering, Our Planet, launching later this week, Zaslav was quick to call the SVOD an “offensive” play due to the BBC and Discovery’s reputation in the natural history space, and adding that “a lot of the content we’re getting is coming off Netflix now and it won’t be going back on [that service] in the time with us”.

In some ways, the SVOD’s most direct competition will be Disney+, which includes the Nat Geo catalogue and the Courteney Monroe-run brand’s various premium offerings, which includes high-end docs such as Jane and One Strange Rock. Both Discovery and Nat Geo aggressively entered the premium race for content around the same time in 2015, although the latter has had markedly more success in the feature doc and scripted arenas.

“The Disney and HBO brands stand for entertainment – they’re about scripted series or movies. Maybe on the edges they’ll do a doc about food or nature, but [natural history] is core to what we do,” said Zaslav.

“If you have Netflix and HBO, you’re going to want to see the greatest natural history on Earth. So we see ourselves as being very clear and differentiated.”