“Ninety Day Fiancé” is the most watched show on television some Sunday evenings. And in the latest innovation in streaming, Discovery + includes a channel that allows four people to watch it Days in a row without seeing the same episode twice.
If you’re unfamiliar with the six-year-old show, as is a surprisingly large proportion of New Yorkers (my editors here, shamefully included), the title’s 90 days refer to the period during which the non-citizen-owner is from A K-1 visa can remain in the country prior to marriage or deportation. The show chronicles couples through that time, complete with skeptical in-laws, arguments, and the enchantment or disenchantment of Nebraska or New Hampshire, all with countdown music and chyrons like “73 Days to Wed”.
In the Discovery + show “90 Days Bares All” (one of about a dozen spin-offs, including “90 Day Fiancé: Self-Quarantined”) the show can “push the boundaries even further on the standards and practices of a normal cable channel”, said Howard Lee, president of TLC, one of the cable networks that make up Discovery’s US business. So you can watch the couples berating each other without beeping or talking about their favorite sex toys.
The biggest big media story these days is the “streaming wars,” the mess of people who traditionally make television and movies to catch up with Netflix. Disney dominates the race for second place; It is unclear who else will survive. CBS is limping to the party with Paramount + next month with the hopeful (for the company) and terrifying (for the consumer) proposal that ordinary, content-addicted Americans will ditch their credit cards for five different streaming services.
Discovery, the dominant programmer of the former “Reality TV” and now rather “Real Life”, has proven to be perhaps the most successful newcomer in this complicated, high-stakes competition. It brings a predominantly female audience. The company claims it has 12 million paid subscriptions worldwide. This is a more than respectable start that has helped the company’s stock rank among the best in the S&P 500 this year (though it is also seeing a wider wave in the market).
Launched on January 4th, the app has a sheer mass of content that rivals Netflix with 55,000 episodes – and it brings out a range of exclusive content dominated by American cultural professionals like Oprah Winfrey, a procession of people- Cover fixtures by Chip and Joanna Gaines and pop icons including Chef Guy Fieri. (Discovery also offered nine numbers on a deal with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but the couple picked Netflix, which was less insistent on exclusivity, said two people familiar with the conversations.)
The app’s early success is in part the result of a contract with Verizon, and Discovery will not disclose the percentage of its subscriptions received through that route. Nor is it stated how many subscriptions there are to an independent European sports service. (A media analyst, Michael Nathanson, estimates that Verizon served about 20 percent of the five million subscriptions in the U.S.) However, the surge in new subscriptions this year exceeded analysts’ expectations, initially confirming the company’s big bet that delivery showing shows through new apps on a range of devices has become a mainstream phenomenon. And while the hype about technical bells and whistles and the use of new kinds of data to predict people’s interests subsides, audiences still love to watch people repair homes, tour guests, crawl around sewers, and argue about their relationships.
“Our bet is when the world does a full rotation that the content people have chosen, if they can choose something on TV or cable, the content they love and walk home for -” 90 days “,” Fixer Upper “,” Property “Brothers” – they’ll still love that, “said David M. Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery. “In the end, people really don’t change that much.”
This is Mr. Zaslav’s unromantic version of the old declaration that content is king. And it’s a punctuation mark for a media era that began with a dizzying sense of transformation. Instead, I explained my 11-year-old Disney’s strategy of releasing a single episode of WandaVision at the same time each week, resulting in an experience mysteriously identical to the way we used to watch TV .
Mr. Zaslav is also the last of his kind – the “last tycoon”, said his old friend, the former HBO managing director Richard Plepler. He’s a relentless fleece mogul who loves to call reporters to talk about his own book (and caught me Tuesday morning in a moment of panic about what I was going to write this week). He likes to visit his stars at home and keep them close by. He is friends with Disney’s former boss Bob Iger, Mr. Plepler, and others who rose through making television and movies. But these companies are now run by people from different business areas – telecommunications, apps, or theme parks. He is a lead actor for The Hamptons, which also holds an annual Boys’ Dinner for 50 of his closest male friends, including Apple’s content chief Eddy Cue and Netflix co-managing director Ted Sarandos in Los Angeles. Dinner will take place during a golf tournament that Discovery owns the television rights to.
The smooth start of Discovery + comes when streamers closer to the heart of the media class struggle. Apple’s service is slow to start. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max was defined by stumbling blocks. But Discovery remains in an odd position in the media business: the company, valued at more than $ 23 billion, is far smaller than the handful of dominant media and telecommunications conglomerates. But it’s too big to be bought by a few companies. There’s an ongoing debate among those who know Mr. Zaslav as to whether to buy or sell – that is, whether Discovery + is another step in making the company more attractive to a giant before the bottom really falls out of the U.S. cable business or whether the company’s current high share price will prompt Mr. Zaslav to acquire other companies.
“He should take this opportunity to grow his business,” said Nathanson, the media analyst who suggested Discovery “buy CNN.”
Mr. Zaslav, who served as an executive at NBC from 1989 to 2006, helped create CNBC and MSNBC, has started playing in the global news business. Discovery is an investor in GB News, a television challenger with the BBC. In Poland, Discovery’s TVN went dark along with other media outlets this year to protest the government’s recent attempt to obstruct independent media. Mr. Zaslav said investing in these channels is part of a strategy to sell streaming services as a bundle with news and sports.
But he said he hadn’t spoken to CNN President Jeff Zucker, an East Hampton golf partner, about the purchase of the network from parent company AT&T and signaled that he had the political indictment linked to top-tier American cable who is suspicious of news.
“The news here in the US is very overdone and angry,” he said.
The discovery has its own nuanced cultural policy, which is the subject of an entire school of cultural criticism. The success of “90 Day” followed Donald Trump’s xenophobic rise and the show was “so ingrained in the real consequences and in the real lives of these people that it often feels too delicate to touch,” wrote Scaachi Koul in 2019 “Immigration and class politics, as well as race and gender, are so present in every episode that you sometimes have to look through the cracks of your eyelids. “
Much of the company’s audience emphatically includes Donald Trump’s America (although shows like “90 Day” have cult status among New York Magazine’s Vulture readers as well). Part of his programming is decidedly against the coast. But the casting is included, and the couples are diverse. And its programming also offers an indication of why Republican attempts to revive attacks against LGBT culture wars in particular have lost some of their political effectiveness. TLC’s version of real life regularly features a number of pairs. A 90-day spin-off tells the story of an American-born partner who moves to his husband’s home in Mexico and deals with open homophobia. Once when the American-born partner looked up at a huge statue of Jesus Christ in Cantamar, he assured his husband, “I think he would approve of us.”
The most strained relationships exist for Mr. Zaslav as for the other streamers with dealers. The Dish Network chairman warned Discovery last week that selling content through the app could mean lower fees from cable companies and other pay-TV operators. But that threat has not yet arisen.
The bigger question could be if and when the service will develop an identity or high-profile programming that is more than a complement to the television network. It’s an experiment, as my colleague John Koblin wrote, as to whether people pay $ 5 a month (or $ 7 without ads) for a service that runs in the background while you fold laundry or pay the bills.
So far, the exclusive content has mostly been aimed at superfans of certain shows, with the occasional experimentation with formats that don’t exactly fit cables. An early attempt is “Ben’s Workshop,” which the host, Ben Napier, described as delighted that Discovery + had picked up. “People kept saying, ‘Ben should have a woodworking show,’ and I kept tweeting them, tagging the network and saying we should do that,” he said. “I didn’t care if it was going to be a purely social media show. I really wanted to do the show. “And Fieri-san told me that he is shooting four episodes of an adventure show in Hawaii for the service that” wouldn’t have been able to sit on exactly that mainstream track that Food Network is doing. “
However, the company says it will increasingly put more of its desirable content first, including a drinking show starring chef Ina Garten and actress Melissa McCarthy, as well as shows with the promising titles “Amy Schumer Learns To Cook: Uncensored” and “Judi.” Dench’s wild Borneo adventure. “
And while the advent of Discovery + is mostly an indication that the shift in distribution technology hasn’t changed American tastes, it doesn’t mean the shift is without consequences. Sunny Anderson, co-host of “The Kitchen” on the Food Network, said she had received – mostly – a surge of feedback on older content.
Last week a viewer wrote to her congratulating her on her weight loss.
“I thought what did you see? I haven’t lost any weight, ”she said, then found they were deep in their library watching old episodes of her show“ Cooking for Real ”. She said she had to answer, “You were watching me 10 years ago, I actually gained weight.”