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Discovery Boss Shrugs on Media Industry Consolidation: ‘I Wish I Knew How All the Chips Are Going to Fall’

TCA 2018: Discovery is coming off its own consolidation after Scripps merger

Discovery Inc. CEO David Zaslav knows there’s a lot of industry consolidation going on, with Disney and Comcast fighting over Fox, and AT&T buying Time Warner. And he’s just as curious as we are to see where it all ends up.

“I wish I knew how all the chips are going to fall,” Zaslav told TV critics gathered at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Thursday. “We’ve placed a lot of chips as bets in areas in the field that most of our competitors haven’t.”

Zaslav would know a lot about consolidation too. His company just closed its nearly $15 billion acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive, which added networks like HGTV, Food Network and Cooking Channel to Discovery’s own hefty portfolio. Between the two companies, that’s a total of 19 different networks.

Post merger, Discovery Inc. is now the second-largest TV company in the U.S., behind only NBCUniversal, taking up 15 percent share of the marketplace. “We were number three when we closed our deal,” he noted.

And with a programming lineup that is full of non-fiction TV series, they play in sandbox that is fairly empty. Which is just how Zaslav likes it.

“If you look at our industry, the majority are playing in scripted series and scripted movies,” he said. “It’s very competitive and very crowded.” He continued that the media business is essentially split into two sides, with everyone in scripted on one, and Discovery on the other. “We see what we have as everything else,” he said, before adding a very important detail: “We own all of it globally.”

Zaslav, along with Nancy Daniels, chief brand officer of Discovery and Factual, reaffirmed a stance that Discovery has taken for a while now: It’s no longer in the scripted content game. “The competitive nature of [the scripted] side of the business has really changed,” said Zaslav, noting the increased competition from big-pocketed tech giants like Amazon and Apple. “We’ve moved away from that.”

In March, shortly before the Discovery-Scripps merger closed, Rich Ross departed as group president of Discovery Channel and Science Channel. Ross had largely spearheaded Discovery’s scripted push, which included series “Harley and the Davidsons” and “Manhunt: Ubamomber.” His ouster was another example of Discovery moving back into non-fiction programming full-time.

“We decided, let’s do what we do best and focus on non-scripted programming,” said Daniels. “It’s really hard to break through.”