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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 documentaries 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, and, in 1996, six new sub-channels to Discovery Channel: 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 1998.[4]

By this time, Discovery Channel had established its place among cable channels. By 2010, It had reached 100 million subscribers households in almost 180 different countries. 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 worldwide, and serving one billion cumulative subscribers in 2004.[6]

In the early 2000s, Discovery Channel registered a certain 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 in an attempt to shift its content focus back toward educational programming that dealt with topics such as popular science, history, and geography. [7]

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 Discovery Channel, 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 Discovery Communication's official website, these 13 channels reach over 1 billion cumulative subscribers worldwide with the highest number of subscribers coming from Discovery Channel. [8]

Outside of television, Discovery Communications runs a number of websites such as and 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.[9]

Branding strategies

Discovery Channel sells itself as a nonfictional high quality channel providing educational programs, that focuses 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."[10]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.[11]

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 Channels reaches all type of audiences with programs ranging from documentaries to game shows (Cash Cab) to reality TV (Deadliest Catch) to 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 Channels corporate website, the target audience is "adults 25-54, particularly males." [12]

Scheduling and promotional techniques

As already 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 the division of 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 American Chopper taking all the afternoon on week days and reality game show Cash Cab taking the early evening. The evening line-up includes popular shows Man vs. Wild, MythBusters, Swords, and River Monsters[13]

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 cable network.

Textual Analysis: Deadliest Catch

Deadliest Catch is one of Discovery Channel best known programs. This reality TV program follows thw life of five ship crew as they stay at sea for months at a time, fishing crabs, in and around the Bearing Sea. Deadliest Catch was premiere on Discovery Channel on April 12, 2005. The first season was composed of ten episodes, which had been shot during the crab season in the fall of 2004 and winter of 2005. The sixth season of the show was aired last spring, starting on April 13, 2010, and, despite some recent problems with the crew, the show should return for a seventh season next spring. [14]

The show is a non fictional account of the between rival crab fishing vessels, and focuses and the relationship within the crews and the hardship of the job. The show uses a lot of ellipsis to summarize the action and is narrated by Mike Rowe. The style of the show emphasizes the fact that those events are real. It is shot using multiple cameras to get different perspective of the action from the perspective of different characters, it takes the characters aside to hear what they have to say, uses flashbacks and non-diegetic music to highlight the mood. The crew of the ships are entirely male, and the only women portraited in the show are the wifes and family members of the crew who stayed back and with whom the relationship are showed on the show.

 production method (produced by Original Production for the discovery channel), or target audience (male).

"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..."[15]

Wikipedia : "Deadliest Catch premiered on the Discovery Channel on April 12, 2005 and currently airs in over 150 countries. The first season consisted of ten episodes, with the finale airing on June 14, 2005. Subsequent seasons have aired on the same April to June or July schedule every year since the original 2005 season, with the sixth season premiering on April 13, 2010. Seasons are taped during the previous fall (king crab) and winter (C. opilio) crab seasons."

how its form and content fit with the industrial strategies and contexts of Discovery Channel.

Deadliest Catch was nominated to the 2007 Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Nonfiction Series; the third season episode "The Unforgiving Sea" received nominations for Outstanding Cinematography For Nonfiction Programming, Outstanding Picture Editing For Nonfiction Programming, and Outstanding Sound Mixing For Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-camera).

How does the program and its cultural meanings fit within the channel's brand?

wikipedia : "Common themes woven throughout the overarching storyline of the particular fishing season include friendly rivalries between the captains (particularly between Sig Hansen of the Northwestern, Johnathan Hillstrand of the Time Bandit, and Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie), the familial ties throughout the fleet (brothers Sig, Norm, and Edgar Hansen, who own the Northwestern, joined on board by Nick Mavar and his nephew Jake Anderson; Phil Harris and his two sons, Jake and Josh, on the Cornelia Marie; the Hillstrand family—brothers Jonathan, Andy, and Neil, and Jonathan's son Scott—on the Time Bandit; brothers Keith and Monte Colburn of the Wizard), the stresses of life on the Bering Sea, and the high burnout rate among greenhorns."

How might the production history of the show connect with its ownership structure?

How does the program's scheduling connect with the channel's larger strategies? Prime Time

Textual Analysis: Life

"(from Discovery's press release, January 2010) The earth is home to more than 30 million different animals and plants - every single one in its own fight for survival. From the makers of PLANET EARTH and narrated by global media leader and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, the epic television series LIFE is the definitive exploration of our planet's living things and their spectacular, bizarre and fascinating behaviors. A BBC and Discovery Channel co-production, the 11-part natural history series airs on Discovery Channel on Sundays from March 21 through April 18, 2010, with two episodes at 8-10PM ET/PT each night, and The Making of LIFE at 10PM on April 18. LIFE is epic in scope, yet intimate in its storytelling. More than four years in the making, with over 3,000 days of filming in the field, LIFE spans every continent and every habitat. Each episode focuses on a different animal or plant group, engrossing viewers with never-before-seen behaviors using the latest in state-of-the-art high-definition filming techniques. From strange creatures, such as the star-nosed mole that hunts underwater using bubbles to smell its prey, to grand spectacles, like millions of fruit bats darkening the Zambian sky, each episode tells mind-blowing stories of survival with drama, humor and suspense."[16]

"From strange creatures, such as the star-nosed mole that hunts underwater using bubbles to smell its prey, to epic spectacles, including millions of fruit bats darkening the Zambian sky, each episode tells mind-blowing stories of survival with drama, humor and suspense.

More than four years in the making, filmed over 3,000 days, across every continent and in every habitat, this is life as no one has ever seen it before"[17]

genre (documentary), style (each episode focuses on a different class of animal, ex: fish, bird, mammals etc; voice over narration by Oprah Winfrey, hyperbolic description, suspence, non diegetic music, personification of the animals, shot from multiple angles), tone (dramatic, highlights the risks taken by the animals or the difficulties, thinks they have learned through experience etc), production method ( wikipedia:"Nearly three years of filming followed, involving 150 shoots on all seven continents, many of them full-scale expeditions to remote wilderness areas."), or target audience (everyone).

The Hollywood Reporter Review : "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." [18]

how its form and content fit with the industrial strategies and contexts of Discovery Channel: Teaches about Nature. Not turned toward profit.

How does the program and its cultural meanings fit within the channel's brand? Embodies the idea of Discvery Channel. All about teaching, making you discover everything about nature and planet Earth, without disturbing out environment. 

How might the production history of the show connect with its ownership structure? Planet Earth and Life came right when Discovery channel was restructuring its scheduling toward more educational programs and less TV reality.

How does the program's scheduling connect with the channel's larger strategies? Prime Time


  1. "Discovery Channel." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  2. "Company Timeline." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  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. <>.
  5. "Company Timeline." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  7. "Discovery Channel." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  8. "Discovery Holding Company Information Statement." U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Home Page). Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  9. "Discovery Studios." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  10. "Our Viewers : Discovery Impact." Home : Discovery Impact. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  11. "Discovery Studios." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  12. "Discovery Studios." Discovery Communications. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  13. "Discovery Channel : TV Listings." Discovery Channel : Science, History, Space, Tech, Sharks, News. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. <>.
  14. "'Deadliest Catch' Captains to return to show" (acessed Nov 3rd)
  15. The Deadliest Catch. (accessed Nov 1st)
  18. The Hollywood Reporter, "Life" (accessed Nov 3rd 2010)