Discovery to Launch Global SVOD Service With BBC Natural History Content

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
Discovery CEO David Zaslav

The partners also unveil a deal to split up the channels in their British TV joint venture UKTV.

TV giant Discovery Inc. and BBC Studios, the commercial arm of U.K. public broadcaster BBC, on Monday unveiled a series of long-term agreements, 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.

The 10-year content partnership, financial terms of which weren't disclosed, 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. The recently launched Dynasties series, hosted by Sir David Attenborough, is included in the deal, as are future BBC-commissioned landmark series.

The upcoming Discovery/BBC content streaming service comes as Netflix is ramping up its own natural history program offering, including the David Attenborough documentary Our Planet from the team behind Blue Planet and Planet Earth. That BBC fare is coming off of Netflix as Discovery gets set to launch its global natural history streaming service, Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav said during a conference call on Monday morning.

"The fact that that (BBC) content will now be coming off of Netflix is important to us. The Netflix brand stands for scripted series and scripted movies. That's what Disney is, that's what HBO is. That's what Showtime is. We have a very different, more targeted approach, which is the greatest natural history (content) on Earth. Having that come off Netflix is important," Zaslav insisted.

The deal, which includes SVOD rights to hundreds of hours of BBC programming across factual genres, will cover all territories outside the U.K., Ireland and Greater China. Discovery will package the BBC shows together with its own natural history and factual programming, along with experiences to be unveiled at a later point, for the worldwide SVOD service.

Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, on the morning call said the draw of new BBC natural history programming will be both celebrating nature and spotlighting pressing environmental concerns of our time. "Our job is to impartially tell people about the challenges the Earth is dealing with. That's really important. The audiences are there. And the interest is growing and growing, as you saw with Blue Planet 2 and the issue of plastics in the ocean," he said.

Blue Planet 2 highlighted the devastating impact of plastic on the ocean as it slowly poisons sea creatures. The upcoming natural history streamer is as yet unnamed, and Zaslav said it will likely be priced at between $3.00 and $5.00 per-month, though no dollar figure has yet been set.

Some of the BBC natural history programming will land on Discovery's linear channels, but most of it will not as the cable group aims at exclusivity for its upcoming global streaming service. "The massive piece of this is we would go directly to people's homes around the world," Zaslav insisted.

The new platform will also include future sequels and spinoffs based on library and existing landmark BBC series, and new exclusive natural history and science programming to be jointly developed by Discovery and the British broadcaster. "There is tremendous value in the marketplace for these programming categories, which have broad appeal and strong multigenerational engagement, and we hope to fill the void in the global marketplace for a dedicated high-quality product," Zaslav earlier said in a statement.

The Discovery boss also stressed the SVOD service will be part of a growing array of direct-to-consumer services that enable consumers to ‘view and do.' "It will be unconventional. In spirit, it will be like a natural history Netflix. But in practice, for people interested in the Serengeti or in the moon, there will be a number of series they can see, people they can talk to, podcasts where they can learn more," Zaslav explained.

BBC's Hall underlined how the Discovery licensing deal is the largest content sales deal ever signed by the pubcaster: "It will mean BBC Studios and Discovery will work together to take our content right across the globe through a new world-beating streaming service."

BBC and Discovery also announced they have struck a deal to split up the British channels in their TV joint venture UKTV. Discovery acquired its 50 percent stake in UKTV last year as part of its $14.6 billion takeover of Scripps Networks Interactive.

BBC Studios will take full control of UKTV's seven entertainment channels, which include W — which has aired such shows as Code Black; male-centric comedy and sports network Dave; Gold, which features classic British comedies; and the female-centric Alibi, which features shows such as Quantico. Discovery will take control of UKTV's lifestyle channels including Good Food, Home and Really.

As part of the UKTV deal, BBC Studios will make payments totaling 173 million pounds, or $225 million, to Discovery.

April 1, 9:30 a.m. Updated with comments by Discovery and BBC execs made during a conference call to discuss their partnership and licensing deal.