@ UBS Media Week: Discovery’s Zaslav: Long-Form Content Doesn’t Pay Online

Do not expect to see any long-form programming on the web from *Discovery Communications*, David Zaslav, the cable programmer’s president and CEO, told an audience on day-three of the UBS Global Media and Communications (PDF) conference.

Keeping it short: You will find plenty of short-form clips of Discovery’s shows, as well as some special features tied to its programming. But that’s about all you’re going to get, Zaslav said. “What you won’t see is any long form content on the web. There’s no value to doing that. We’ continue to run more and more clips, but we have a 20-year-old library and we’re not giving it away. As for where do we find additional value on the web? That’s something I don’t have the answer to.”

Parental guidance suggested: Zaslav also wants to refocus the image of the cable company’s non-fiction-centric channels from “Rated G” to something more aggressive and younger. But it’s not forgetting its softer side. Zaslav briefly mentioned that Oprah Winfrey Network, which will be coming to its Health Channel. But the main part of his pitch was how it wants a bit more toughness and showed showed a few clips demonstrating Discovery’s edgier content: some of the names of shows its banking on speak plainly to that, such as Destroyed In Seconds, Stormwatcher. Another exampe of this tougher stance was exemplified by a returning show, Whale Watchers, which is centered around a former Greenpeace activist ( “He’s no longer interested in peace”) and includes actress Daryl Hannah as part of the crew. More after the jump.

— Cable’s confidence: Like other cable execs speaking at the conference, Zaslav tried to make a case for the format’s strength in a recession. At the beginning of his presentation, Zaslav’s made a point of saying that 49 percent of Discovery’s revenue is “long-cycle,” meaning that it came from affiliates. Still, at least on the U.S. side, 50 percent is advertising, which suggests a great deal of vulnerability to the downward economic headwinds.

The turnaround: Apart from adverting, Discovery (NSDQ: DISAB) has been trying to turn things around at its cable networks since the summer, Zaslav insisted. In July ratings at TLC were down 30 percent. After putting new management that month, by October, the channel was up 17 percent for women 25- to 54. Animal Planet is also being rebranded from a “Rated G” set of programs for an audience of young kids and older women. “Animals aren’t Rated G, there’s a lot of violence and aggression there. And we’re going to spend the next two- to three years building it into another TLC.”