Discovery Acquires 'Gold Rush' Producer

Discovery Channel

The deal strengthens Discovery's creative pipeline and calls for Raw, based in London, to expand into scripted programming and independent films.

LONDON – Cable networks powerhouse Discovery Communications has acquired London-based independent producer Raw, the company behind Discovery Channel hit show Gold Rush.

The deal calls for Raw to expand into scripted programming and push further into high-quality independent films, the companies said.

Financial details weren't immediately disclosed.

The deal fits into Discovery’s strategy of ensuring a healthy creative pipeline and diversifying its content creation operations outside the U.S. It comes at a time when other TV networks groups, including Britain's ITV and Germany's ProSiebenSat.1, have also acquired production houses at home and abroad.

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Discovery, led by CEO David Zaslav, has continued to expand in Europe, including last year's $1.7 billion acquisition of SBS in Scandinavia and a deal for a majority stake in pan-European sports network Eurosport International. Discovery also submitted a first-round bid for U.K. broadcast network Channel 5 last week.

In late 2011, Discovery had made its first-ever acquisition of an independent production firm by buying Britain's Betty, whose shows at the time included Dirty Sexy Things, The Joy of Teen Sex and Freaky Eaters. The company back then reportedly paid about $16.7 million (£10.0 million) for Betty.

"Discovery is committed to working with the best creatives in the business, and Raw stands apart not only as one of the finest in the U.K., but also one of the best in the world," said Lee Bartlett, president, Discovery Studios and Production Group. "We want Raw to maintain the identity and culture that has allowed them to produce such high-quality programming. We are looking forward to Raw infusing our ever-expanding creative pipeline with compelling stories that will be seen on Discovery’s networks around the world."

The executive also referenced Monday's debut of the rebranded AHC: American Heroes Channel, formerly known as Military Channel. In that context, he said "the acquisition of Raw underscores Discovery's ongoing strategy of increasing investment in new brands, new content creators, new programming genres and new opportunities across more platforms in more regions of the world."

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Explaining what the production firm adds to the content mix, Bartlett told THR: "Raw is more focused on male factual output, while Betty is more female-centric. We buy companies that complement each other, not so that they compete with each other."

Explaining his approach to acquisitions, he said: "Our need for original content grows and grows and grows." He added: "A company that has so many platforms requires a lot of content to fill them. We want access to as many creative people as possible. We have slowly and very carefully targeted creators whose programming we believe travels very well."

How is Discovery's approach to buying production firms different from ITV's? "They are acquiring multiple production companies to produce not for ITV, but everybody else," Bartlett told THR. "Our main goal is to have them produce for us, but also give them the ability to produce for others. The point of departure is different. What's much more important for us is the programming they create and whether we can use it on our air."

For Raw, the Discovery deal will provide expanded global infrastructure, distribution opportunities and investment resources, with Bartlett promising "more creative independence than other companies could offer them."

Said Raw founder Dimitri Doganis: "We've always been obsessed with great stories and bringing them to screen in the most stylish and innovative way. I think that’s what has helped attract some of the best filmmakers to Raw projects. We want to take those core values into more areas, including scripted drama and film, in the U.K. and U.S., and also around the world - and the partnership with Discovery will allow us to really turbo-charge those plans."

He added: "I'm delighted that this deal will give us the resources and the freedom we need for the next phase of our growth."

VIDEO: Discovery's 'Gold Rush' Sneak Peek

Discovery last year reached its highest Friday primetime ratings ever thanks to Gold Rush, the network's highest rated show, and Bering Sea Gold. That made Discovery the number 3 network in all of U.S. TV on Friday nights in 2013 in the demo of men 25-54, behind only ABC and CBS.

Gold Rush, whose fourth season premiered in October, has been the top Friday series in all of U.S. TV for men 18-49. It has also been the top Friday cable program for 10 consecutive weeks among people and men 25-54 and people and men 18-49.
Raw is managed by Doganis, CEO Joely Fether, creative director Bart Layton and managing director Piers Vellacott.

"Raw will continue to operate independently from its London headquarters, and all of Raw’s current staff will be retained," the companies said in a statement.
Discovery and Raw have worked together since the latter's founding year 2001. Beyond Gold Rush, Raw shows have included Unexplained Files for Discovery's Science and Discovery Networks International and Dangerous Persuasions for the company's ID network.

In addition to its shows for Discovery, Raw produces such programming as Locked Up Abroad for National Geographic and Paranormal Witness for NBCUniversal's SyFy.

On the film side, Raw's The Imposter for Film4, which Doganis and Layton produced and directed, respectively, became one of the highest-ever grossing documentaries at the U.K. box office and won a BAFTA award for outstanding debut.

"They have an uncanny eye for characters who have universal appeal, because they are special," Bartlett said about the Raw team. "The locations and stories behind the characters are very unique. And the quality of their stories and their production and camera techniques are unusual. People enjoy watching just for joy."

Raw has also put a toe into scripted programming waters with Blackout for Britain's Channel 4, a what-if drama exploring the fallout from an extended power outage caused by cyber terrorists.

Addressing Discovery's interest in Raw's push into scripted fare, Bartlett said: "In January, we had our six-hour mini series Klondike…Scripted expands your audience. I see no reason not to continue in that vein."

Twitter: @georgszalai