Discovery wants streaming service Plus on 3 billion smartphones globally

The logo for Discovery’s forthcoming streaming service Discovery Plus. (Graphic by The Desk)

If Netflix dominates the biggest screen in the house, Discovery Networks wants dominate the screen in everyone’s pocket.

That’s the inference from comments made by Discovery’s chief executive at a conference last week in which he said the company began focusing on producing country-specific TV shows after an investor remarked that Discovery’s content would do well on smartphones.

“We now have a product that could reach three billion smartphone owners around the world,” David Zaslav, Discovery’s chief executive, said.

Zaslav was referring to Discovery Plus, a streaming TV service that launched in several European countries earlier this year and will launch stateside next month.

The domestic and international variants of Discovery Plus share some common traits: Both offer Discovery’s deep library of reality-based TV shows and documentaries for a fraction of what Netflix, HBO and others charge.

The American version will offer content from third parties, including BBC Worldwide and A+E Networks, for $5 a month with ads and $7 a month without. The European version offers some of that content coupled with linear streams of Discovery’s pay TV channels for about the same amount of money, though it also includes a free tier with a limited amount of shows.

While Discovery wants to maintain a domestic offering, Zaslav strongly suggested the company’s focal point will be its international expansion of Discovery Plus, which will also allow European viewers the ability to stream future Olympic games and other sports.

“It’s imperative that Discovery Plus become a global product,” Zaslav said. “Netflix is the only scale player, Disney is coming and going global — but we’re the only other fully global [intellectual property] company. Outside the U.S., we have carved out local entertainment in-language, local sports and non-fiction in-language, and when we put all three together, we see real differentiation with Netflix.”

Some of the company’s beta testing will be on its domestic offering, which rolls out to users who have Apple and Android devices on January 4.

“Right now, you can mostly see our content on a TV,” Zaslav said. “We want it on any device, anywhere and in any language at any time. That’s what we’re going to do on January 4.”

It’s strategy is remarkably simple: Zig where Netflix zags. While Netflix invests heavily in a global content library of dramas, comedies, true crime documentaries and stand-up specials, Discovery has taken the opposite approach, choosing reality-based programs that are cheaper to produce and ones in which it wholly owns the global distribution rights.

That, Zaslav said, will allow Discovery Plus to scale at breakneck speed and compete directly with Netflix for the TVs, tablets and smartphones of viewers throughout the world.

“We feel like scripted [television] has had its moment and this is our time,” he said.