Discovery's Leigh Anne Brodsky Talks Consumer Products Strategy, Upside (Q&A)

Leigh Anne Brodsky - P 2016
Courtesy of Discovery Communications

At the recent Brand Licensing Europe in London, she also spoke to THR about Eurosport, a Discovery store in Dubai, a new eco park in China and other location-based opportunities.

Discovery Communications in mid-May announced the hiring of former Nickelodeon Consumer Products and Peanuts Worldwide top executive Leigh Anne Brodsky as executive vp, Discovery Global Enterprises, overseeing consumer products, location-based entertainment and program sales worldwide.

She reports to chief commercial officer Paul Guyardo, who said the goals for her would be "driving incremental revenue, broadening reach and deepening connections with our viewers."

Brodsky earlier this month attended the Brand Licensing Europe expo in London. She spoke to THR international business editor Georg Szalai about her remit and why Discovery and its Eurosport unit have upside in consumer products and location-based entertainment. 

You have been in the job for about 100 days now. Why does Discovery have upside in consumer products and merchandising?

One of the things that I think is most exciting is that the Discovery brand and Eurosport have such emotional connections to people and especially with millennials who want something that’s authentic. In this case, it’s authentic, it’s about curiosity and it’s about adventure and exploration. Those are things that going forward the next generation are interested in.

The research that we have done shows that people want to do things that are socially responsible. Millennials want something that has meaning and is not just a fluffy thing. This is not, and if you watch any of our shows, they are very hardcore, but also fun. It’s not about being stodgy. A lot of our channels are very cause-related, which is another thing we are not doing now momentarily because it’s good from a marketing perspective. It actually is very relevant to who we are as a company and the brand. That said, from a consumer products perspective, all those things help to make product a natural extension, because people who are connecting with our shows want to then wear it or play games based on it or whatever.

We have our first product line here in Europe with a company called Craghoppers. They are one of the top outdoor brands, and the product is launching in spring of 2017. We are pretty excited about that because it’s the kind of product that can use in an urban setting, and our camera crews shooting our documentaries can wear it. It’s sturdy and stands up to the elements. That’s really keeping true to the brand.

You mentioned pan-European sports TV brand Eurosport...

With Eurosport we have just acquired it. We haven’t fully fleshed out the entire strategy. But we are going to focus on tentpoles that are critically important to what the consumer is going to be focused on. The first tentpole we are going to affect with product is probably the Tour de France.

Could that include sports equipment?

I think so. We have a bike here. But you have to be careful, because we don't want it to be inauthentic. We know that super sports fans want the real thing. So we will figure out how to offer them curated products. There may be some Eurosport branded product and some products that are just cool that people would expect to find from Eurosport.

With kids entertainment characters, people may argue it's easier to slap them onto T shirts and bags and so on. How is Discovery's approach to licensing and merchandising different from that?

I like to think we didn’t just slap characters on shirts, but I get what you mean. It’s trickier. It’s interesting for me, because I have been doing this for a very long time and I found this to be extremely challenging and exciting. It’s trickier, but there is more white space with this than when you look at all that you see here [at Brand Licensing Europe], which is a lot of characters that kind of blend together. We feel good about it. The authenticity piece is really important for both of our brands.

How is your work for Discovery different in terms of finding partners and the like?

There are different partners, because in the kids business there is a set of expected partners that would work on the various categories. This takes a little bit more of a nuanced approach. What is fun about it is we also end up going to companies that have never done licensing before. You have to be explorers and get in the door and explain why this company would see incremental business by blending their brand with Discovery.

What’s your pitch to potential merchandise partners?

I first talk about the fans and the emotional connection. We use a lot of stats about how many people are viewing a certain show, how there is heat on the channel and shows that would potentially translate into a bunch of people wanting to have an additional experience with the brand, such as wearing it.

Is Discovery merchandise mostly about popular shows, on-air talent or Discovery itself as a brand?

We do show-based merchandise for sure. Shark Week’s 30th anniversary is coming up in 2018, so that will definitely a moment that we will focus on globally. I think that we will also work with some of the camera people who shoot our programming, because that is authentic and feels real.

For the most part it's our brands though, not our shows. Our shows you know are good, but they will have a life cycle and then the next one will come and be the next hit show that we will certainly want to give the fans. But a brand like Discovery and Discovery Adventures are things that will sustain.

How big is the consumer products business for Discovery?

We don’t report down to that level.

Any bestselling products?

Our Shark Week plushes are big items and fun.

Any brands that could get products or experiences down the line? OWN, for example?

That brand has great passion and appeal, so absolutely. In addition, TLC and Say Yes to the Dress, which has been around for 10 years and which is a format that travels well internationally. So these are things that are also potentially areas where we can develop product.

You opened Discovery Adventures Park this year in Moganshan, China. Are you planning more of these in-person experiences or stores and why?

We're are doing consumer products and location-based entertainment, which is a really immersive experience based on the brands. A store can be that, especially a store like the Discovery Channel Store, [a hybrid retail endeavor] located within the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, where you really do feel like you're stepping into the world of Discovery.

We opened the eco park in Moganshan in China where you can live out your fantasies of what a Discovery day or two days is, zip-lining, doing ropes courses and climbing walls. And it's a beautiful area of China, which I had never been to and it's. It reminded me of the Catskill Mountains outside of New York City. But there were tea trees. It was stunning and a beautiful place for a Discovery eco park.

And then we have a relationship with Princess Cruise Lines. We have these excursions that we've developed for them. It's called Discovery at Sea. And on these cruise lines you'll stop at a port and you'll get to go do one of these Discovery things. Those are things that I think you'll see more of. I think that it's important for us to let, especially millennials, their families and everyone, be able to kind of live the lifestyle of Discovery. We think it's a good business, and then we'll continue to do consumer products.

Any particular international growth markets outside of China?

There's huge growth coming out of Asia obviously. South Korea is a market in a region to watch. An article I read said it is now a place to watch for fashion trends for the world and we know that from a pop culture perspective K-Pop and all of that is big. Entertainment and fashion and sports are all where people get the trends. And we have a line of outdoor apparel for winter and summer in South Korea with a company. So we feel very fortunate.

We haven't tapped into India yet. I do think that there's certainly potential long term there. We don't have a huge business yet in Japan, but I think that Japan is an interesting market.

You also handle program sales. Tell us about that business a bit!

That’s an important part of our brand extension as well. I consider it really like sort of a windowing or syndication-type approach. It’s working with our channels and managing which are the right shows at what time on which channels and it’s another touch point. A lot of our channels are pay channels, so there are opportunities for us to work with free to air with certain shows. And we have done a lot of deals with airlines, so you can see some of our great shows on an airline. There is an opportunity for us in the next step to go sell jackets on British Air in the catalog for in-air purchase.