‘No walled gardens’: Discovery embraces platform distribution

Discovery Communications has taken the wraps off of a rebrand of its Seeker digital network, gunning for more growth by embracing Facebook and other social platforms beyond YouTube.

Seeker, which initially launched a year ago, is an effort to reach younger audiences with science, news and other thought-provoking content. It enjoyed some modest success: It has amassed 300,000 subscribers and close to 30 million views on its central YouTube channel over the past year, covering topics such as the effect of global warming on the Bering Strait and global trade and why Americans don’t use the metric system.

But as Facebook and other social platforms prioritize video, Seeker seeks to be there, too. The company has already started experimenting with tailoring content to Facebook, with videos about a lawyer who left his job to become a Lego artist and a new type of patch that helps people with diabetes.

“There are no walled gardens here,” said Suzanne Kolb, evp and gm of Discovery Digital Networks, which oversees Seeker and other digital businesses under Discovery Communications. “We’re focused on having a strong, ubiquitous brand that is available to an audience when and where they want it.”

It’s not that Discovery has eschewed social platforms in the past. The company was among the earliest adopters of YouTube as a place to find new audiences with original content — over the years, it either acquired or built digital video brands such as Revision3, SourceFed, TestTube and DNews. But as Kolb describes it, Discovery Digital Networks for some time was “frankly, singularly focused” on YouTube. “We don’t want to be singularly focused on just one or two platforms,” she said.

The early returns are promising. For instance, the video about the diabetes patch has done 13.5 million views on the platform. Like other publishers, Facebook overall has been the place with the largest growth for Discovery Digital Networks. Of the 300 million views Seeker and SourceFed Studios generate per month, a third are now happening on Facebook, the company said. Its Facebook videos averaged 700,000 views in April.

“Changing the way we produce content for Facebook has made a huge difference on how we perform on that platform,” Kolb said.

Increasingly, Seeker’s Facebook strategy will also include live videos. This week, it went live once per day on the platform with videos such as “DNews” host Trace Dominguez visiting the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway and a political explainer about the Electoral College. So far, Seeker’s experiment with Facebook Live is grabbing anywhere between 25,000 to 30,000 live viewers, Kolb said.

Meanwhile, on Instagram, Seeker’s initially focused on sharing photos and working with influencers on the platform to build a community of like-minded “seekers.” As for Snapchat, it’s still early days on Snapchat as the network figures out its content strategy for the platform, Kolb said.

And it’s not ditching YouTube, either. “It’s funny that YouTube has become the establishment,” said Kolb. “But it’s still a place that we expect to be a primary driver of usage for a while. Facebook is growing fast, but we don’t plan on taking our foot off the gas when it comes to YouTube.”

All of the content is handled by the 70-person team behind Seeker. This includes producers, writers and other staff members devoted to brands such as TestTube, “DNews” and Revision3, which have been rolled up into Seeker as Discovery tries to build one “cohesive” brand.

“It’s better as one cohesive brand than trying to manage a whole bunch of different channels that are too often variations on the same, core theme,” said Kolb.

Images provided by Discovery Digital Networks


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