Behind Warner Bros. Discovery’s Secret Audience-Shifting Strategy: Schedule Switches and Simulcasts

A lot of TV companies are judged by how quickly they can introduce new shows. Warner Bros. Discovery thinks it may find some gains by developing new ways to introduce audiences to series and content that already exists.

The strategy has been playing out in open view on some of the company’s biggest cable networks. Audiences watching NBA basketball games have been pushed to sample series such as Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions,” HGTV’s “Rock The Block” and Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” And some portion decided to follow the programs back to their original homes for more. According to company research, 12% of TNT sports viewers who sampled “Tournament” went on to watch it on Food Network. Likewise, 10% of basketball fans that tried “Rock The Block” followed it to HGTV while 7% of viewers who tested “Deadliest Catch” watched more of it on Discovery.

“We have an opportunity to share titles across the portfolio, but then we also have an opportunity to taek advantage of the huge audienfes that we have coming in for sports and expose them to shows that live on other networks,” says Kathleen Finch, chairman and chief content officer of Warner Bros. Discovery’s U.S. networks group.

Such techniques could prove helpful to Warner Bros. Discovery as it navigates conditions during the current writers strike. Most of its competitors have this week demonstrated a singular strategy – betting on sports and, to some extent, news to round up the big audiences TV advertisers crave. But putting programming from one part of its portfolio on another to spur viewers to try something different may create some organic connections between TV audiences and shows they hadn’t thought to watch.

Finch has devoted a senior executive to finding more of these sorts of opportunities. Julie Taylor, a veteran program planning strategist who worked at Scripps before it was purchased by Discovery, which merged last year with WarnerMedia, is chief of content strategy and insights at the U.S. cable networks.

“She really takes a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on in our portfolio and where we can move it around to drive sampling,” says Finch, or “introduce new fans to a particular genre.”

The company has tested other ideas as well. “Impractical Jokers” has long run on TruTV, but in recent weeks, its latest cycle of programs was simulcast on TBS as well. The HLN series “Very Scary People” has also found a home on ID, the network devoted to true crime storytelling. The show “is having some of the highest ratings we’ve seen on ID,” says Jon Steinlauf, who oversees U.S. advertising sales for Warner Bros. Discovery. “You find these nuggets of opportunity, and Kathleen has such a big canvas to work with, trying out different things from different libraries on different networks.”

The company recently announced it would debut the long-running paranormal series “Ghost Adventurers,” which has a home on Travel Channel, with a two-hour special show on Discovery Channel.

The strategy “is low risk,” says Finch. “It’s our own air. We control it. We can do a lot of experiments.”

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