An entertainment giant
In the early 1980's John Hendricks felt that there just weren't enough documentaries on TV. In 1985, he launched a cable channel to fill that void and called it the Discovery Channel. Today, Discovery's worldwide presence encompasses 15 entertainment brands available in 147 countries, reaching a cumulative 1.2 billion people (403 million subscriber households). Revenues for the company from television and sales - including videos, CD-ROMs, software, and other products - have skyrocketed to $1.4 billion in 1999. The company recently committed $100 million to its newest ventures, Discovery Health and Discovery Travel & Adventure. The two new channels will join the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Learning Channel, and Discovery Kids along with the company's international channels.
A history of fast growth
Four years after its debut, Cox Cable Communications, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and NewChannels acquired controlling interest in the company, and the channel was launched in Europe. In 1991, the company purchased The Learning Channel, which focuses on science, humanities and educational programming. In 1995, the company expanded into Latin America and Asia and began retailing products such as computer software, videos, and science games in Dallas and Chicago. The following year, the company acquired the Nature Company retail chain, bought a 7% stake in children's programming producer Lancit media, and launched the wildlife channel Animal Planet.
An aggressive expansion strategy
The company also owns a controlling interest in the U.S. component of the Travel Channel, and is looking to acquire its the European and Latin American divisions. Discovery continued its aggressive expansion by collaborating with the BBC to launch three jointly-owned satellite channels in Europe and Latin America. And in March 1998, the pair launched BBC America, a digital cable channel featuring BBC drama, sitcoms, live world news and documentaries. Discovery is also test marketing Your Choice TV, a digital service that would allow viewers to watch the shows they want, when they want. Implementing a method similar to pay-per-view, the same program would begin at different times on different channels so viewers would get more than one shot at catching the shows they want to see. Discovery expects this service to be available to the general public by 2000. The company is also launching two new global channels in 2000: Discovery Health and Discovery Travel & Adventure.
Discovering the Internet
In 1995 the company launched its $10 million web site. Discovery Communications strengthened its web site in 1997 by investing several million dollars in Omniview Inc. - the innovator of the technology that creates 360-degree photo images of environments that can be explored online in real time. Discovery used this technology on its web site to explore the remains of the Titanic in 1996. In 1999 the company signed a multiyear deal with Wink Communications to procide shows on the Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel with interactive programming options like e-mail and e-commerce. And in early 2000 the company detailed a $500 million Web strategy which included the creating of vertical portals (known as "vortals") that pair topical content and virtual communities with relevant e-commerce opportunities. Later that year, Discovery.com entered into an agreement with SpaceRef.com in which Discovery will host the space-buff's destination which includes "the world's only dedicated space search engine." Some analysts speculate that Discovery.com will eventually seek an intial public offering. Discovery Communications is also the largest shareholder of online retailer petstore.com. In May 2000 the company announced the launch of an Indian dot com subsidiary and said that the company's current Indian subsidiary was well on its way to breaking even.
As a fast-growing company, Discovery Communications has been hiring at a fast clip for the past several years. The company's expansion into retail means that in addition to television production there will be far more opportunities in advertising, marketing, and sales. Across the board, the increasingly international nature of the company means a need for candidates with foreign language skills. While not a requirement for many non-production positions, a background or interest in documentaries or natural sciences is definitely a plus at Discovery Communications. Young applicants should not be discouraged, insiders report that entry-level positions are often given to talented recent graduates as first jobs. The company's Human Resources department does not accept blind applications, so call the switchboard at the Bethesda HQ (301-986-0444) after 6pm EST for information on openings and how to apply.
Employees at Discovery Communications have only good things to say about working for their "fast-paced, exciting" company. They describe co-workers as "energetic, enthusiastic people who work very hard." Although Discovery has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years, insiders insist that "it still has a small company feeling." Says one industry veteran: "I can safely say that in my 30 years working in the television industry, Discovery Communications is the best place that I have had the privilege to work with." The company asks new employees to sign a set of "company values," and they are measured against these values every year during performance reviews.
Insiders report that they are extremely pleased with quality of life issues -- "the flexible work schedules, casual dress, and emergency child care." The nitty-gritty benefits are also "very good," with full health and dental coverage, 401k, and "a generous amount of vacation, personal and sick time." However, employees with Discovery admit that "the pay is lower than what [they] could get if they worked elsewhere." Says one: "we pay a little below fair market value for positions across-the-board." Employees suggest that the lower-than-average pay may be a result of the company's employment of young workers. "Only a few years ago, our average age was 28," reports one insider.
Insiders say that "minorities seem to get a fair shake" and that Discovery is "very family, female, and homosexual friendly." Reports one insider: "we seem to have about a 60-40 female-male ratio, with an average age of 32 years old." Job seekers looking for an "equitable, fun, and innovative workplace," should definitely check out Discovery Communications.
A&E Networks;National Geographics;Time Warner;Walt Disney
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