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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. 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, they often intensely emotional aspects of the relationships amongst characters attempt to reach a more female audience as well. The setting is another appeal of the show, as reality TV shows and documentaries are hardly ever shot on ship in high sea.

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.[14] 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. The show frequently uses ellipses to summarize the action, giving the illusion that there is constant dramatic action taking place on the boat. All the descriptions of the show always refer to 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..."[15]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, uses flashbacks and non-diegetic music to highlight the mood. To censor profanity said by the crew members, the editors use diegetic sounds to cover their voices. 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.

The show has won numerous awards for excellence in nonfiction programming.[16] Given Discovery Channel's goal of educating viewers and demonstrating the fun in learning, Deadliest Catch can be seen as one of the channel's most successful programs. This success, combined with the shows appeal to a broad audience, make it a perfect candidate for prime time broadcasting. The final episode of the sixth season was the highest rated episode of the show ever and had the best ratings among men on that time slot that night. [17] It is new aired in more than 150 countries. 

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. 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, for example “Fish”, “Mammals”, or “Hunter and Hunted”.

In terms of production, the show took more than four years to make, 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." [18]

In terms of style, each scene is shot with multiple angles and has non diegetic music to support the mood of the sequence. 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." [19] This makes the narration quite hyperbolic, but the images of the show still remind us that it is still real. Moreover, those are elements that are not usually associated with documentaries, as many have the idea of documentaries as being dry and long. Life sells itself as entertaining.

Life fits 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 away from reality TV and games and more toward a high quality channel.

The show is always aired during prime time and is one of Discovery Channel's most popular shows. [20]

"(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."

"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"[21]

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).

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.
  15. The Deadliest Catch. (accessed Nov 1st)
  18. The Hollywood Reporter, "Life" (accessed Nov 3rd 2010)