Over the years, Discovery Inc., the owner of Animal Planet and steward of Shark Week, has mesmerized TV audiences with all sorts of Darwinian marvels. Alligator snapping turtles. Giant Tasmanian crayfish. Tree kangaroos. Now, Discovery is trying to pull off its own evolutionary leap, crawling out of the choppy seas of basic cable to invade the fertile land of streaming TV. On May 17, Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav sat alongside John Stankey, the CEO of AT&T Inc., at a hastily convened investor call and provided a blurry snapshot of their newly hatched, multiheaded entertainment hydra.
The executives disclosed that AT&T, just three years after completing its costly acquisition of Time Warner and renaming it WarnerMedia, would be spinning off its media assets, which include CNN, TNT, TBS, and Warner Bros. studio, and merging them with Discovery. Zaslav will lead the new, as yet unnamed, entity. Its portfolio will include a mix of highbrow brands such as HBO—known for creating lavishly expensive scripted programming like Succession—along with a slate of middlebrow, basic cable networks, including HGTV, Food Network, and TLC that are adept at churning out low-cost reality shows like 90 Day Fiancé. “There is no reason why this can’t be the broadest, most successful direct-to-consumer platform in the world,” Zaslav said.
AT&T and Discovery have struggled to master the streaming ecosystem. Launched a year ago, AT&T’s HBO Max got off to a slow start, but it’s since gained traction after striking key distribution deals with Roku and Amazon and showing Wonder Woman 1984, Godzilla vs. Kong, and other Warner Bros. films on the same day as their theater premieres. HBO Max and the traditional HBO channel together have about 44 million subscribers in the U.S. and 64 million total worldwide. Discovery’s streaming service, Discovery+, started in January in the U.S. By late April, it had 15 million subscribers.
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