Discovery adds online adventure channel to reach Web generation

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cable network operator Discovery Communications Inc said it is boosting investment in original Web video with a new channel focused on adventurers, in an effort to reach younger audiences who have grown up watching media online.

The owner of The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet launched the ad-supported free online network called Seeker on Tuesday and will pitch it to advertisers in May during the newfronts, an annual showcase of digital content.

Michelob Ultra, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, has signed on as the channel's first sponsor.

Seeker will feature more than a dozen original series created specifically for the network. Many are produced and hosted by journalist Laura Ling, who was held captive in a North Korean prison in 2009.

That experience inspired "Rituals with Laura Ling," a series that will examine how people survive under pressure.

Major media companies such as Discovery are trying to connect with younger viewers who turn to the Internet and social media more often than traditional television, and are more likely to shun the pay TV subscriptions that fuel Discovery's core business.

Discovery believes those audiences crave uplifting stories that can be shared, a counterpoint to humorous "fail" videos that go viral, Colin Decker, general manager of Discovery Digital Networks, told Reuters in an interview on Monday. Seeker aims to fill that void.

"There is a very powerful appetite in this Web video generation for content that inspires," Decker said.

Discovery's approach to digital video differs from other companies such as Fullscreen or The Walt Disney Co's Maker Studios, which aggregate videos from tens of thousands of YouTube stars who create the content.

Discovery focuses on a smaller universe of digital content it creates and owns. It launched science-themed channel TestTube in 2013 and now operates six channels with more than 100 series.

By owning content, Discovery Digital Networks has greater latitude to let advertisers integrate their brands through product placement or joint development of content, Decker said.

That is a plus for advertisers who want to do more than just put their logo on a video, said Scott Donaton, chief content officer at marketing agency DigitasLBi.

"They have been really open and flexible in their willingness to work with brands as content creators," he said.

Online views of Discovery's digital networks doubled in 2014 and now reach about 150 million per month. The networks are available on Google Inc's YouTube, on websites and on devices such as Roku and Xbox. The company does not disclose revenue for the digital networks.

Seeker, like other programming, faces the challenge of finding an audience amid an explosion of online video.

Episodes will range from about three minutes to 30 minutes. One series called "Going Off Grid" features people who have disconnected from modern life. "Trucker Josh" follows a truck driver who travels with his dog.

Discovery will promote Seeker on social media outlets including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, Decker said.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Ken Wills)

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