Abu Dhabi Media Summit: Discovery International CEO Talks Acquisitions

Mark Hollinger

Mark Hollinger sees opportunities outside the core factual TV business and shares plans for a Dubai cooking channel the firm acquired last year, while the CEO of Sony India highlights the need for localized content.

The president and CEO of Discovery Communications' Discovery Networks International said Wednesday that international growth outside of the company’s core factual business would likely come from acquisitions.

ABU DHABI – Speaking on the second day of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, Mark Hollinger said that Discovery would not be able to organically launch a new full-fledged general entertainment network from scratch, for example. “So, most things that we would look to do outside our core business of factual would be acquisition orientated,” he said.

In Europe, Discovery earlier this year acquired the SBS Nordic business for $1.7 billion from Germany's ProSiebenSat.1, adding networks across Scandinavia and a scripted entertainment programming business to the company's portfolio. And a deal that has given Discovery a stake in pan-European sports network Eurosport has taken the firm into the sports TV business.

Hollinger on Wednesday mentioned Discovery’s purchase last year of Fatafeat, a 24-hour free-to-air cooking channel based in Dubai and broadcast across 21 Arabic countries, citing areas where the reach of its content or talent could be expanded across Discovery’s network spanning 224 countries and 42 entertainment brands.

“Fatafeat is obviously a service that is intended for an audience in the Middle East. There is an enormous amount of local production that they do," he said. "But we look at everything with a global filter, so we now are seeing that there will be opportunities to take Fatafeat programming, either as it’s produced or from a format perspective – or Fatafeat talent – and move it to other markets around the world."

Said Hollinger: “If we can get to a point where things work locally and can then be exported, that’s a big win.”

Hollinger on Tuesday also said that there was still a place for traditional pay TV, or what he called "big TV," in the digital age. "We do not want to kill off the golden goose of the pay TV model," he said.

Hollinger recently announced that he would leave Discovery next year.

Also speaking during the same session was Man Jit Singh, CEO of Sony India, who underlined the need for localization for big international players.

“In every country there’s a certain audience for American programming, where you can get by with a little bit of basic subtitling and you have a bank of programs that can be fashioned for a market," he said. "But what we’re seeing in every market today is that localization is becoming more and more important. You need to have local themes that are sensitive to the local market and sensitive to the local population. The idea of having one feed across the world is gone.”

Focusing on his home market, Singh said that of more than 300 hours programmed by Sony India each year, almost all was built on local content.

“There are a few international formats that we have customized, such as Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, which we put on with an Indian host," he explained. "But those are the exceptions. Almost all of the other programs are entirely developed and produced in India in the local language, Hindi.”

The executives also discussed technology issues.
“Short-form content will be watched on mobiles and smartphones, and content for wireless will have to be different," Singh said. "Music and comedy clips work well. In India, the biggest use of the cell phone is to listen to music. It becomes your radio."
Asked about the role of social media, Hollinger said: "In a world with so much choice, there is more and more emphasis on super fans – for a show, channel or genre of content."
Singh said that Sony India looks at Twitter to help shape storylines in soap operas based on the number of tweets and buzz, saying that approach is proving to be successful.