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DISCOVERY CHANNEL: The world is just ... Awesome

"Discovery Channel, the second most widely distributed cable network in the U.S., is dedicated to creating the highest quality non-fiction content that informs and entertains its consumers about the world in all its wonder, diversity and amazement."[1] It is an American satellite and Cable television channel focused on providing information on sciences, technology and history through entertainment. 

History [2] 

Discovery Channel was founded in June 1985 by John Hendricks, with partial funding from the BBC. It was initially established as a part of Hendrick's company Cable Educational Network Inc., but in 1986, upon receiving further funding from a number of cable operators, Cable Educational Network Inc. and The Discovery Channel incorporated to become Discovery Communications, Inc. which still owns and operates Discovery Channel today. [3]

At its start, the channel had just 156,000 subscribers in the United States and was only broadcast for twelve hours a day in the afternoon and evening.  However, within five years, the channel's reach had extended to over 50 million households. Discovery Communications launched the first international broadcasting of Discovery Channel in the United Kingdom in 1989. The rapid expansion of the network continued in the following years with the launch of Discovery Channel in Asia and Latin America between January and February 1994. Due in part to the success of Discovery Channel, Discovery Communications was able to acquire several other cable channels including The Learning Channel (TLC) in 1991. In 1996, six new sub-channels were added: Animal Planet, Discovery Science, Discovery Kids, Discovery Civilization, Discovery Home and Leisure and Discovery Wings. This expansion of the network culminated in 1998 when Discovery Communications formed a global joint venture with BBC in March of that year.[4]

By this time, Discovery Channel had established its place among cable channels. In March 2000, the channel premiered the documentary "Raising the Mammoth", and broke all time cable ratings records.[5] In October 2001, Discovery Channel became the world's most widely distributed television brand, reaching 300 million households in over 180 countries, and serving one billion cumulative subscribers in 2004.

In the early 2000s, Discovery Channel registered a drops in its ratings usually attributed to an over-broadcasting of shows that did not quite fit Discovery Channel's mission of educating the audience, such as Monster Garage and American Choppers. In response to this dip in ratings, Discovery Channel reformed its scheduling lineup in 2005 and attempted to shift its content focus back toward educational programming that dealt with topics such as popular science, history, and geography. [6]


Ownership, conglomeration and related channels  

Discovery Channel is owned by Discovery Communications Inc., which is publicly traded global media and entertainment company with the official slogan, "The number-one nonfiction media company."  Discovery Channel is managed under the Discovery Networks U.S. division of Discovery Communications. In addition to Discovery Channel,  Discovery Communications owns 12 other US cable and satellite television channels which include TLC and Animal Planet, Discovery Health, Science Channel, Discovery Kids, Investigation Discovery, Planet Green, Military Channel, FitTV, HD Theatre, Discovery en Espanol and Discovery Familia. According to the Discovery Communications official website, these 13 channels reach over 1 billion cumulative subscribers worldwide with the highest number of subscribers coming from Discovery Channel. [7]


Outside of television, Discovery Communications runs a number of websites such as Howstuffworks.com and treehugger.com. It also distributes BBC America and BBC World News to cable and satellite operators in the United States. Discovery Channel itself runs a number of other ventures that include a professional cycling team, radio stations, and online stores. 


Roles in production, distribution and transmission

Discovery Communications Inc. produces a number of original programs for its various channels, including Discovery Channel, but also purchases programs from numerous local and international producers. For example, MythBusters, one of the channel's most popular TV shows, is produced by an Australian based company called Beyond Television production. Discovery Communications also owns Discovery Studios, a film and television studio based in Maryland. 

Discovery Studios is Discovery Communication’s internal production engine, creating innovative high-quality original series, specials, and short-form content for the family of Discovery networks and digital media, as well as theatrical documentaries released under the award-winning Discovery Films banner. In 2008, Discovery Studios produced more than 300 hours of original series, specials and short-form content that aired across the family of Discovery networks, including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Planet Green, Discovery Health and Military Channel, and featured high-profile talent, such as Bill Nye, Howie Mandel, Dr. Mehmet Oz and more.[8]


Branding strategies

Discovery Channel sells itself as a nonfictional high quality channel providing educational programs that focus on popular science, technology, and history. Its image among viewers is that of a trust-worthy source of information about science, the natural world, and technological advances. According to the official website, Discovery Channel "provide[s] viewers with the highest quality nonfiction content that not only entertains and engages, but also enlightens, educates and inspires positive action."[9]Discovery Channel offers a mix of programming across many genres including, science and technology, exploration, adventure, history and in-depth, behind-the-scenes glimpses at the people, places and organizations that shape and share our world.[10]


Discovery Channel's attempt to portray itself in this manner is evident in the 2008 selection of its new slogan, "The world is just ... Awesome". Previous tag lines include "Explore Your World", "There's no thrill like discovery" and, when Discovery Channel moved away from purely educational content and adopted more reality based programming, "Entertain Your Brain". When Discovery Channel adopted its current slogan in 2008, the logo was also redesigned. The globe that has always been part of the logo was moved from its position underneath the word "Discovery" to overlap with the "D", allowing for use of just the D with the globe as a simplified version of the logo as seen below.


Screen shot 2010-10-07 at 8.12.12 PM.png


Discovery Channel reaches all type of audiences with programs ranging from documentaries and game shows (Cash Cab) to reality TV (Deadliest Catch) and science entertainment (very popular MythBusters). The target audience for such a variety of programming is cast as curious people and looking to learn more, be it through the quick question-answer format of the cash cab or through hours long documentary like Discovery Channel's acclaimed Planet Earth. However, according to Discovery Channel's corporate website, the target audience is "adults 25-54, particularly males." [11]


Scheduling and promotional techniques

As previously mentioned, Discovery Channel shows mostly documentary and reality type programming. Discovery Channel is not a news channel and thus does not cover any polemical issues and does not make investigation documentaries on current issues. The channel has also been increasingly broadcasting reality-based themes such as speculative investigation (MythBusters, Best Evidence), automobiles shows (American Chopper) or shows about occupations (Dirty Jobs). 

Scheduling on Discovery Channel works by dividing the day into 30 minute intervals, though most shows actually air for one or two hours. It is interesting to notice that the schedule for broadcasting during the day seems to be the same every day on week days, with hit show such as American Chopper taking up the whole afternoon on week days and then a reality game show such as Cash Cab taking the early evening. The evening line-up includes popular shows Man vs. Wild, MythBusters, Swords, and River Monsters[12]

While these shows are all part of Discovery Channel's signature programs, many people tend to associate Discovery Channel first and foremost with MythBusters. MythBusters is a show that focuses each episode on testing the validity of several popular beliefs, rumors, or other myths. It was first aired in 2006, although the idea was first presented to Discovery Channel in 2000. Now, it is a highly influential show, the hosts having been invited to numerous talk shows and universities. 

Another famous scheduling tradition at Discovery Channel is the annual summer Shark Week specials, during which the channel dedicates all its programs to sharks. It was first aired in 1987 and has been reprogramed every year ever since during July or August. It is now a highly-popular event on the channel.


Textual Analysis: Deadliest Catch

Deadliest Catch is one of Discovery Channel's best known programs. It is a reality show that documents the lives of the men aboard a fleet of crab fishing boats in the Bering Sea. Deadliest Catch was premiered on Discovery Channel on April 12, 2005 as part of the Channel's effort to return to more education-based programming. Although the show's more general goal is to educate viewers about the dangerous reality of life aboard one of these ships, it also highlights the camaraderie amongst captain and crew as well as the competitive nature of the industry. In attempt to reach the channel's target male audience, the show features an almost entirely male cast, portraying them as heroes who put themselves in danger on a daily basis in order to provide for their families back home. However, the show also highlights intensely emotional aspects of the relationships amongst characters attempt to reach a more female audience. The novelty of the setting is another appeal of the show, as reality TV shows and documentaries are hardly ever shot on ship in high sea.

The show is produced by Original Production for the Discovery Channel, and it is filmed during the crab season in the Fall and Winter, before being aired in the Spring.[13] Each season contains 10-15 that spans the length of a single fishing season. This helps reinforce the sense of reality, helping promote the idea that the viewer is seeing everything that goes on and is not missing out on any of the action. Each episode is formulated around a specific conflict or story on one or more of the boats that is resolved by the end of the episode. This format allows viewers to easily understand each episode on its own, making for successful re-runs and lucrative DVD sales.

The show frequently uses ellipses to summarize the action, giving the illusion that there is constant dramatic action taking place on the boat. Descriptions of the show often emphasize the danger of the sea and the toughness of the crew. "The Bering Sea's toughest crews return for an all-new season of crab fishing that takes viewers through some of the roughest situations the captains and crews have ever had to face on the high seas. From treacherous weather conditions to crew conflict to the death of beloved Captain Phil Harris, the new season bring viewers into the intimate world of these crab fisherman..."[14]

The style of the show emphasizes the fact that the events are real. It is shot using multiple cameras in order to get various perspectives from different characters. it takes the characters aside to hear what they have to say and uses flashbacks and non-diegetic music to highlight the mood. To censor profanity of the crew members, the editors use diegetic sounds such as a horn sounding or radio static to cover their voices. This helps make the show more appropriate for a younger audience while still maintaining a sense of reality.

Deadliest Catch can be seen as one of the Discovery Channel's most successful programs. The show has won numerous awards for excellence in nonfiction programming.[15] It effectively fulfills Discovery Channel's goal of educating viewers and demonstrating the fun in learning. The shows success, combined with the its appeal to a broad audience, make it a perfect candidate for prime time broadcasting on Tuesdays at 9 pm.[16] This scheduling seems to be effective; the show frequently wins its prime time time slot, with its highest rated episode garnering over 8.5 million viewers and receiving the best ratings among men in its time slot that night. [17] 

Deadliest Catch has proven a globally translatable program. It is now aired on international Discovery Channels in more than 150 countries. Discovery Channel has tried to maximize profits from the show by creating a number of related products including clothing, posters, books relating to the show as well as two Deadliest Catch video games. 


Textual Analysis: Life

Life perfectly embodies the direction in which Discovery Channel wishes to take it shows, a direction pointed toward educating audiences about nature, the environment and sciences.  The production of the show came just as Discovery Channel was restructuring its programing and changed its logo and tag line. The show was actually produced by BBC television, with Discovery Channel, as well as Skai TV and the Open University, as co-producers. The show is was aired during prime time and was one of Discovery Channel's most popular shows. [18] It was premiered on March 21, 2010 in the United States, although it was premiered on BBC One[19] in October 2009 and in North America on Discovery Channel Canada on November 9, 2009. Life is a ten episode long series of documentaries about nature similar to BBC’s Planet Earth. Each episode focuses on a different form of life, with episodes such as “Fish”, “Mammals”, or “Hunter and Hunted”.

In terms of production, the show took more than four years to make to the BBC Natural History Unit, as the film crew worked on all seven continents capturing critically acclaimed shots of nature, using brand-new and high-quality cameras and recording materials. If not for such recently developed technology, the show would have been very difficult to make, as many of the actions captured by the crew had never been shot before. "What distinguishes this BBC-Discovery co-production from its predecessors is its breathless and eye-popping photography born of patience, planning, research and the most technologically advanced HD equipment. The close-ups of animals, plants, birds, fish and insects could not have been imagined even a decade ago." [20]Life fits perfectly into the general strategy of Discovery Channel, as the show is purely educational and is targeted toward everyone. It is meant to show people that “the world is just ... awesome”. Life’s production started just as the channel was revamping its program and moving away from reality TV and games and more toward high quality shows. The show was critically acclaimed and has won several awards. [21] The show may not seem to have been done for commercial reasons, but the editing of the episodes does allow for commercial breaks. 

Each scene is shot with multiple angles and has non diegetic music to support the mood of the sequence. The show was written and originally narrated by David Attenborough, yet the American version of the show has a voice over by Oprah Winfrey, narrating and explaining what is happening on the screen. The voice over highlights the risks taken by the animals, what they have learned from experience, and how they deal with obstacles. Discovery descibes the show as an “epic” , “each episode tells mind-blowing stories of survival with drama, humor and suspense." [22] Although this narration may seem quite hyperbolic, the images of the show remind the viewer that it is still very real. These are elements that are not often associated with documentaries. Many people hold the notion that documentaries are dry and boring, but Life sells itself as entertaining.

The show puts its emphasis on the natural environment, and deliberately neglects to portray human interaction. This focus on the beauty of nature fits with the Discovery Channel's project of promoting environmental consciousness, of which the purchase of treehugger.com was also a part.


Viewers engagement

Online presence of the channel 

Discovery Channel has a significant online presence. The very top of the Channel's home page has an advertisement section promoting a Discovery Channel program but contains a "brought to you by" and then a sponsor logo and an option to expand the advertisement. The site's heading contains a search bar, links to other Discovery Communications channels websites, and links to the corporation's Discovery Store and Discovery Adventures websites. The sub headings include TV Shows, TV Schedules, News, Video, Games, Blogs, Explore by Subject, Newsletters, Kids, and Shop. a large section that cycles through five different  advertisements for current Discovery Channel programs. The rest of the page is divided into 9 sections: Popular Video, News Headlines, Features, Top Games, Curiostiy Online, Puzzles, TV Shows, Sneak Peak, and Explore. Each section contains a number of links to other parts of the site that relate to the topic. Along the  left side of page there is a section that advertises for the same program as the advertisement at the top. Underneath this advertisement is an section advertising products from the Discovery Channel's online store and then a section displaying the current TV schedule. At the bottom of the page is a small section for "Ads by Google" that plainly lists four links to external sites that relate to the Channel's themes such as "Play Adventure Quest" or "Green Travel Deals." [23]Aside from these four links and the "brought to you by" reference to sponsorship, all of the advertising on this page is internal to Discovery Communications, promoting either Discovery Channel programming and related products or other corporate endeavors. Although the site certainly focuses on self-promotion, there is also an emphasis on learning which is consistent with Discovery Channel's industrial goals. Under the Explore by Subject subheading, there are a number of different categories listed that relate to much of the Channel's programming such as Survival, Technology, Earth, and Animals. These pages serve almost as virtual encyclopedias where the viewer can go to learn more about topics they see in the programs.


Each program has its own page with a distinct theme. For example the page for Life has a dark background[24], whereas the Mythbuster page has a picture of the two hosts.The pages all focus on the visuals in order to make it attractive to the eye. The top part of each page, and the first thing anybody browsing the website would see, is a large video window that begins playing video advertisements from external sponsors and then clips from the show as soon as the page is loaded. There is also space to advertise along the edge and at the top of each page. The general layout of the page is the same for most of the shows, with a small "About the Show" box, a photo gallery, and a miscellenous section at the bottom of the page, where each show has something different in display. There are often links to puzzles and games as well shopping for the show's merchandise. each page has a tab for videos, where an extensive collection of clips from the show is available. Deadliest Catch for example has more than three hundred clips available for viewing on the official web page.[25] Although full episodes are not available for streaming on the official website, episodes from most shows can be purchased on itunes or amazon on demand. On the right hand side of all the shows' pages are links to the facebook and twitters of the show, as well as link that would interest people who like the show. For example, the Storm Chasers page has links toward the "Top 5 Mad Geniuses" and the "10 Coolest Robots Ever"[26], whereas Dirty Jobs has links for more information about the show itself ("Dirty Jobs by the number")[27]. Some of the shows have links toward discussions, that allow viewers to interact. The message boards have pre-made categories in which people can write freely. Each forum allows people to discuss the show as well as their own experiences related to the topic presented in the show and share ideas for future shows.The forums from the Discovery Channel website display a mixture of advertisements, some for Discovery programming and some for external sponsors. 


Many of these discussions provide a lot of opportunity for active fan engagement. In a ongoing Myth Busters forum, fans can submit myths they would like the show to explore and can post videos that either bring up certain myths or address other fans' myths. There is also a Myth Busters Episode Discussion in which viewers talk about the extent to which the believe in featured myths, report on upcoming events on Myth Busters, reveal their favorite parts ("Myth Busters moments"), and criticize the methods used to test myths during an episode. Despite these (often constructive) criticisms, viewers are generally very positive and excited about Myth Busters. There is a similar trend in viewer attitudes in discussions for many of the other Discovery Channel shows. On other websites, such as TV.com, many programs have high ratings, but viewers tend to not be as active. Many sites, such as Television Without Pity do not even have pages for Discovery Channel programming. On TV.com some Discovery Channel shows have large forums, but they are not very active. [28] Many of the shows are incredibly popular on Facebook. For example, Myth Busters has just under 3 million fans[29] who can share videos an updates with other fans, find links to related websites, and chose to "Like" each link. Fans can also participate in the Discovery Channel Facebook discussions, which is very active.[30] Discovery Channel is also quite popular on Myspace. The Captain Phil Harry Fan Page has nearly 27000 friends and more than 20 000 comments left by fans.[31] Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, MythBusters, Dirtiest Jobs, Deadliest Catch and Man versus Wild all have official Myspace pages as subpages of the Discovery channel one. Those pages however are not very active. For example, the MythBusters one has only one picture and no comment on it.[32] There are also quite a few non official fan pages. [33]


REFERENCES

  1. "Discovery Channel." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/brands/us/discovery-channel/
  2. "Company Timeline." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/our-company/company-timeline/
  3. Zad, Martie (June 19, 1988). "The Discovery Channel; Science, Nature, Adventure and Animals That Bite". The Washington Post.
  4. "Company Timeline." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/our-company/company-timeline/
  5. "Company Timeline." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/our-company/company-timeline/
  6. "Discovery Channel." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_Channel
  7. "Discovery Holding Company Information Statement." U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Home Page). Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1320482/000104746905019465/a2153553zex-99_1.htm#eg1432_where_you_can_find_more_information
  8. "Discovery Studios." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/brands/discovery-studios/
  9. "Our Viewers : Discovery Impact." Home : Discovery Impact. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://impact.discovery.com/our-viewers/
  10. "Discovery Studios." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/brands/discovery-studios/
  11. "Discovery Studios." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/brands/discovery-studios/
  12. "Discovery Channel : TV Listings." Discovery Channel : Science, History, Space, Tech, Sharks, News. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-schedules/weekly.html
  13. "Now by Original Productions" Original Productions. Web. 04 Nov. 2010. http://www.origprod.com/theshows.htm
  14. "The Deadliest Catch" Discovery Channel. web. 01 Nov. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/deadliest-catch/
  15. "Awards for 'Deadliest Catch: Crab fishing in Alaska'" IMDb. Web. 04 Nov. 2010. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0446809/awards
  16. "The rest of 'Deadliest Catch' season devoted to Captain Phil Harris". Los Angeles Times. Web. 04 Nov. 2010. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2010/06/deadliest-catch-devoted-to-captain-phil-harris.html
  17. "'Deadliest Catch' Delivers Highest Rated Episode Ever" The Futon Critic. Web. 03 Nov. 2010. http://www.thefutoncritic.com/ratings/2010/06/30/deadliest-catch-delivers-highest-rated-episode-ever-36343/20100630discovery02/
  18. "Ratings Overview: Life on Discovery Channel" The Futon Critic. Web. 04 Nov. 2010. http://www.thefutoncritic.com/ratings/2010/04/20/ratings-overview-life-on-discovery-channel-35389/20100420discovery01/
  19. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/09_september/18/life.shtml
  20. "Life" The Hollywood Reporter. Web. 03 Nov. 2010) http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/life-tv-review-29415
  21. "Awards for 'Life'". IMDb. Web. 03 Nov. 2010. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1533395/awards
  22. "Life (Discovery)" The Futon Critic. Web. 03 Nov. 2010. http://www.thefutoncritic.com/showatch/life-discovery/
  23. The Discovery Channel. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/
  24. "Life". Discovery Channel. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/life/
  25. "Deadliest Catch Videos" Discovery Channel. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/deadliest-catch/
  26. "Storm Chasers". Discovery Channel. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/storm-chasers/
  27. "Dirty Jobs". Discovery Channel. Web. 29 Nov. 2010. http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/dirty-jobs/
  28. "Man vs. Wild: Forums". TV.com. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. http://www.tv.com/man-vs.-wild/show/66696/forums.html?tag=page_nav;forums#
  29. "MythBusters". Facebook. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. http://www.facebook.com/MythBusters
  30. "Discovery Channel Discussions" Facebook. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. http://www.facebook.com/DiscoveryChannel?v=app_2373072738
  31. "Capt Phil Harris Fan Page". MySpace.com. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. http://www.myspace.com/fvcorneliamarie
  32. "MythBusters | Discovery Channel". MySpace. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. http://www.myspace.com/mythbusters
  33. "MythBusters Build Team". MySpace. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://www.myspace.com/mythbustersbuildteam