Why Discovery Is Having Ratings Problems, According To One Exec

discovery shark week

Discovery is the place to be on cable TV when it comes to learning about the world, witnessing shark feeding frenzies, and/or watching people be naked and afraid. Unfortunately for the folks behind the scenes, however, ratings have been slipping lately. According to Discovery Communications chief executive officer David Zaslav, there's one big reason why viewers haven't been tuning in as much as before. Instead of sitting down to watch Discovery, members of the core demographic are watching other cable networks. Zaslav had this to say about Discovery's recent ratings:

Having said that, if you look at...MSNBC, CNN, and Fox [News], it's an unusual year, they're generating a huge audience and they're taking a significant audience away from Discovery.

It's not hard to guess what has made 2016 different from the previous few years when it comes to cable ratings. This year is a U.S. presidential election year, and the political stakes are higher than ever before, as two controversial candidates prepare to face off to become leader of the free world. MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News are featuring news programming that is more relevant nowadays than what Discovery has to offer--at least according to its CEO. The 12% decrease from 2015 to 2016 isn't exactly encouraging, but at least that's a fairly reasonable explanation for the drop and demographic divide.

Given that Discovery was one of the three cable networks that grew the most in 2015, David Zaslav shouldn't be in crisis mode just yet. In fact, he went on at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference (via The Wrap) to explain that growth in the U.S. has been encouraging and Discovery is set to end 2016 on a high note. Who knows? Maybe Discovery will get a boost late in the game after the presidential election finally happens and the campaign season comes to an end. The election is on November 8, so Discovery should have time to pick some of its viewers back up from cable news in the aftermath of the political frenzy. Not every week can score Shark Week ratings anyway.

Of course, the presidential election isn't the only event of 2016 to pull ratings away from regular programming. The Summer Olympics in Rio were watched by a huge amount of people, some of whom might have tuned in to Discovery if not for the appeal of the best athletes in the world competing for the top prize. Thanks to the election and the Olympics, this year may turn out to be a major statistical outlier when it comes to Discovery viewership. Hopefully the channel will avoid any more controversies such as those which came from the fake shark documentary and the slightly misleading Eaten Alive snake special.

Only time will tell if Discovery's numbers will get a boost once the November election is over. Check out our fall TV premiere schedule to see all that you'll be able to catch on the small screen in the near future.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).