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Discovery’s BBC deal is a bid to be the Netflix of nature

Sir David Attenborough meets a leatherback turtle on the BBC series “Planet Earth: Blue Planet II.”
(BBC America)

Discovery Inc. — one of the stalwarts of the traditional cable TV bundle — is going back to nature in its most aggressive bid yet to get into the subscription streaming business in the U.S.

The New York-based company announced Monday it has struck a 10-year deal for the streaming rights to all of the natural history programming produced by BBC Studios and will use it to launch a subscription over-the-top TV service. The yet-to-be named service will be available in 2020 in the United States and the rest of the world outside of Britain, Ireland and China.

Discovery will pay the BBC about $23 million a year for the streaming rights. The two companies also agreed to split up the ownership of 10 UKTV channels they currently co-own.

The service will be the exclusive streaming home for BBC’s popular natural history series, which include “Planet Earth,” its sequel “Life,” “Frozen Planet” and “Blue Planet: Seas of Life,” currently available on Netflix. The programs will leave Netflix but continue to air on cable television in the U.S. on BBC America, the channel co-owned by the BBC and AMC Networks.


Discovery will also get the streaming rights to future BBC Studios documentary productions on nature, science, travel, space, history and civilization. Additionally, the two companies will team up on original productions for the streaming service.

Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav said in an interview that the nature programming service — which will be priced at $3 to $5 a month — has the potential to be a sought-after additional buy for households that already have Netflix or other streaming platforms with scripted programming and movies.

“Scripted entertainment is getting quite crowded,” he said. “We love our lane with natural history programming. There is no broader family entertainment than what we have.”

The new service will likely use Discovery in its name, a nod to the company’s long history of carrying natural history programming on its flagship cable channel.


Discovery carried nature productions from the BBC when it first launched in 1985. A three-hour BBC-produced special, “Walking With Dinosaurs,” which aired in 2000, remains the most-watched program in Discovery’s history.

Over-the-top services offer Discovery — which owns a wide array of mostly nonfiction channels such as Food Network, ID, HGTV, TLC, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery — a path for faster growth as the traditional cable network business slows down due to the steady decline in pay television subscriptions. Younger consumers are increasingly forgoing cable and satellite for video entertainment offered online.

Discovery does not offer an over-the-top service with its domestic channels as it would disrupt the company’s relationships with cable and satellite outfits that still pay significant fees to carry them.

But Discovery has invested in over-the-top channels for the international market.

Discovery last year paid $2 billion for the international streaming and TV rights to the PGA golf tournament and offers it on an over-the-top channel called GolfTV in Europe and Asia. The company has a deal with Tiger Woods in which he offers pro tips for golf enthusiasts on the channel.

Wall Street welcomed the BBC news as Discovery Inc.’s shares closed Monday at $27.75, up 2.7%.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio