Discovery Executives Talk Upfront Strategy, Outlook

David Zaslav

Discovery Communications boss David Zaslav made $49.9 million in 2012, slightly below the $52.4 million that he had earned in 2011. But that was enough to see him yet again rank just behind Moonves in terms of compensation for bosses of big entertainment companies. The year-over-year drop was due to changes in the value of his stock options, even as the company’s shares rose more than 50 percent last year.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav and ad sales boss Joe Abruzzese discuss the company's new "up close and personal" approach and plans to take Velocity worldwide.

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav and his team on Tuesday explained their new approach to upfront advertising sales meetings at a breakfast event in midtown Manhattan, expressing optimism for this year's upfront market.‎

Zaslav was on Tuesday joined by advertising sales chief Joe Abruzzese, Discovery Channel president Rich Ross and the presidents of other networks operated by the company. Zaslav said his team has been going from agency to agency to have more intimate interactions and discussions. "I think its going to work out quite well," he said.

As the industry is changing, Discovery is looking to go "up close and personal" with agencies, Abruzzese said, adding that the reaction so far has been good.

Asked about how the upfront trends are looking, Zaslav said it was still too early, adding that ad trends were currently better than in the fourth quarter. Abruzzese said flexibility was one of the key advantages to offer in negotiations. The upfront overall "won't be gangbusters," but better than last year, he predicted.

Zaslav said ad prices are improving, but volume challenges remain.

Asked about a possible U.S. OTT service, Zaslav reiterated his previous prediction that if TV Everywhere doesn't grow more solid in the coming years, the system could "burst" and lead to more OTT service launches.

Zaslav on Tuesday also recalled that Oprah Winfrey "didn't know me" when they started discussions on the OWN network joint venture, "but she knew the name Discovery." He recalled how she told him that Planet Earth changed the way she felt about the planet.

Zaslav on Tuesday also once again talked up the importance of Discovery's global reach, saying the firm was the No. 1 international pay-TV media company. With almost 20 percent growth over the part five years from Discovery's international business, Zaslav said he was "even more optimistic" about the next five years, especially amid a "slowing cable business" in the U.S. "as things maybe start to taper" domestically. "Our international pillar gives us a real hedge," he concluded.

Zaslav said that one big new initiative for Discovery was taking Turbo/Velocity around the world like TLC and others have been taken worldwide.

Ross on Tuesday touted Discovery's position as the No. 1 cable network for men 25-54 and its highest reach ever in February, along with its rising reach among women 25-54 now.

He said the network will this year celebrate its 30th anniversary and vowed to continue focusing on "programming that is authentic," active and ”relevant and relatable." Ross also touted Shark Week, which last year reached 42 million viewers to have its highest-rated week ever.

Asked about his approach to scripted programming, Zaslav said, "Scripted is quite expensive." He added that the company would do it in select cases and was looking mainly for projects that can work worldwide.

Twitter: @georgszalai