Stable of emerging nets has Discovery optimistic

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Almost a year into his job as CEO of Discovery Communications, David Zaslav is focusing on boosting the fortunes of six of the company's emerging domestic channels and improving its international business.

Zaslav talked up Discovery to analysts and investors at Tuesday's UBS conference and the "real opportunity" the company had in the U.S. and worldwide beyond its flagship channels Discovery and TLC. He identified six channels — including Science Channel and the soon-to-be-relaunched Planet Green and Investigation Discovery — that sit between 50 million and 70 million homes and have what he sees is enormous potential.

He said Discovery Communications was eliminating or drastically reducing nonproductive business units like its brick-and-mortar stores and a direct-to-consumer "homework helper" service. But he said that the company is increasing its investment in programming in 2007 and will continue to do so in 2008.

One of the beneficiaries is the Science Channel, which will receive a new look next year. Zaslav said that the science focus was a "keeper" and could be bigger than the History Channel, with one important difference: drawing younger viewers.

He said Discovery was getting in on the ground floor with Planet Green, its green living/save the planet-themed cable channel that will launch next year. Discovery is already signing up charter advertisers for Planet Green and can offer multiplatform deals with Discovery's acquisition of Treehugger.com.

"We're going to own that market," he said.

A similar opportunity is opening up with crime and investigation, which he's pulled off Discovery and has a large library that can feed Investigation Discovery when it rebrands from Discovery Times Channel. He said there's a strong opportunity with the changes to CourtTV.

The other three emerging channels are Discovery Health, Discovery Kids and the Military Channel, Zaslav told The Hollywood Reporter. All will remain a focus for Discovery.

At the same time, Zaslav said the international business could be much stronger for Discovery. He said that unlike other companies, Discovery owns much of its own content and its library could be used to feed any number of networks around the world. Discovery does business in 170 countries and is adding local salespeople in several countries.
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