Discovery Nabs Cost Savings as TV Hosts Shoot at Home, Says CEO

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David Zaslav

"Why are we dragging everyone to a studio?" David Zaslav told an investor conference about celebrity chefs using their home kitchens as sets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Stuck-at-home Food Network and Cooking Channel hosts shooting in their own kitchens during the COVID-19 crisis, and using camera equipment supplied by their networks, has given Discovery CEO David Zaslav an idea on how to produce more content with cost savings post-pandemic.

"Why are we dragging everyone to a studio? Let's shoot it in a home. The content is dramatic. The cost is dramatically less," Zaslav told the MoffettNathanson 7th Annual Media & Communications Summit during an appearance Monday that was webcast.

Triple D host Guy Fieri ordering takeout from some of his favorite dives and diners and The Pioneer Woman host Ree Drummond shooting an episode at home among her family has allowed Discovery to shoot more content for less.

"Pioneer Woman is doing better with content that the Drummond family is shooting because she feels comfortable. The same thing with Guy Fieri doing pickup. And the cost of that content is, you know, a tenth or a fifth of the cost of shooting at a studio," the Discovery boss argued.

Zaslav added that the stay-at-home cost solution has become a talking point among top network execs at Discovery as they discuss future business strategies. "We don't have to listen to the production companies about, you know, the high-level shoot. We can do it for much cheaper — some of our content — and get it out, and the cycle can be much quicker," the CEO added.

He insisted that budgets for Discovery's unscripted shows, with pre-pandemic budgets of around $300,000 to $500,000 per hour, have only come down since the coronavirus crisis forced consumers to shelter at home, where they watch far more TV. 

Zaslav also reiterated a theme heard last week during an analyst call following the release of the company's latest financial results: With sports around the world paused amid the coronavirus pandemic, the channel group's lifestyle brands — HGTV, DIY, the Cooking Channel and Food Network — have become hot properties.

"The Food Network is watched as much or more in length of view, as is HGTV, as Fox News," the exec argued. He added Discovery, as a "content company," doesn't have empty hotels or theme parks amid the pandemic like the major Hollywood studios, and was using its strong cash flow to exploit its popular IP worldwide, especially in the expanding streaming space.

Discovery has been impacted on the sports side, where its strategy to create consumer ecosystems around cycling and golf, for example, has seen those sports shut down, and the Summer Olympics in Japan have been delayed to 2021.

"We can't spend a lot of money, and we're saving a lot of money at a time when our share is growing," Zaslav said of added pandemic-era cost savings.