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Volume 20 No. 42
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Eileen O’Neill, group president, Discovery and TLC Networks

Sitting in Discovery’s production truck as Nik Wallenda completed his walk across the Little Colorado River Gorge last month, Eileen O’Neill, group president, Discovery and TLC Networks, witnessed the social media traffic about the event. She suspected she was onto something big, and she was right: A whopping 13 million people tuned in to watch the walk. O’Neill, who started at Discovery in 1990 as an unpaid intern, reflects here on what makes a hit show and how viewers will watch such events in the future.

— Compiled by John Ourand


I have been nervous for this for about eight months, since Nik insisted that he go untethered. We take that responsibility really seriously. It’s definitely 22 minutes and 54 seconds that I don’t relish doing again quickly, but it was amazing.

Takeaways from “Skywire”:
Something that is so unimaginable is always going to capture people’s attention, especially when they have the opportunity to do it live with a social community built around that.

The translation to broadband and mobile: Discovery Channel brought the big beauty, the majesty of the Grand Canyon on big screens. People watching it on 40- and 50-inch screens got that experience. But those that were online got to program their own experience and pull from cameras above him, below him, alongside him.

How to make money on digital: We’re all trying to figure out how that business model works. ... Consumers want it on a handheld, but they also want it on a 70-inch screen. As content providers, we have to understand that and respect that and produce for that.

Importance of live events to Discovery: It was a premeditated strategy that we got behind about two years ago. We thought it was important to do big events that can break through the DVR vice and also give us a platform to launch new shows.

Do you covet sports programming?: Personally, I do as a big sports fan. Right now, Discovery’s focus on sports is on our international platform. Domestically, our channels are focused on nonfiction.

Components of a successful show: We’re looking for great characters. Ideally, something is at stake. We need it to be fresh and different. The shows that work the strongest for us are things that are first to market on subjects that people either aren’t aware of or familiar with.

How the viewing experience will change over the next decade: Access to that viewing experience is only going to improve. For as many things as we have access to — on the computer, VOD, mobile devices — getting to the show you want takes six or eight more clicks than it should.