Discovery CEO Dismisses Netflix Entering Non-Fiction TV Arena

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
Discovery CEO David Zaslav

"Can you come into this space? You can, but it's hard," David Zaslav told an industry conference.

As Discovery Communications looks to dominate non-fiction streaming with its drive into sports, food, home and natural history programming, CEO David Zaslav on Tuesday said he wasn't bothered by Netflix getting into unscripted TV.

"Can you come into this space? You can, but it's hard," Zaslav told the J.P. Morgan Technology, Media and Communications Conference in Boston. "Netflix can go out and buy a great show in the food and home space, but that's never going to be who they are. We have great expertise in our areas, and we're sticking to our lane," he added.

Discovery, whose networks include the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC and OWN, earlier acquired Scripps Interactive Networks, owner of the likes of HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network, and struck skinny bundle carriage deals as it aims to create a powerhouse in the unscripted and lifestyle content field amid continuing industry consolidation.

Netflix for its part, has driven into the non-fiction space with popular shows like its Queer Eye reboot and Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. But Zaslav countered that Netflix and rival streamers like Amazon Prime and Hulu will always stand for high-end dramas, unlike Discovery, which excels in the non-fiction space.

"Netflix is a great company, but their brand stands for high-end, great entertainment. [Their subscribers] want to watch this particular series they love. Amazon and HBO does that too," he told the investors conference.

Zaslav also discussed a multi-year global content partnership between Discovery's Golf TV streaming service, the PGA Tour and golf star Tiger Woods. "Tiger Woods. The last big deal he did was in 1996 with Nike. We talked to him about our vision for golf, and he came with us," Zaslav said after Discovery struck the exclusive partnership with the recent U.S. Masters winner.

Discovery on Monday said it has acquired the Golf Digest magazine brand for $35 million to extend the cable channel group's growing multi-platform distribution and reach in the golf game worldwide.

And Zaslav talked up a series of long-term agreements with BBC Studios, the commercial arm of U.K. public broadcaster BBC, including a multimillion-dollar content partnership and a 10-year licensing deal covering BBC natural history and other factual programming, which will help power a new global subscription VOD service that Discovery said it would launch by 2020.

"We view that as our Marvel library. We own the BBC library through 2030, everywhere in the world except the U.K. and China. And we put that together with our natural history library," he said. The 10-year content partnership will see Discovery become the exclusive global home of the BBC's landmark natural history programs — including the Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Life franchises— for SVOD.