Discovery Joins Howard, Grazer to Start Digital Studio

Discovery Communications Inc. is joining with Hollywood producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to start a studio called New Form that will make short videos for online viewers.

Kathleen Grace, formerly with Google Inc.’s YouTube, will be chief creative officer of Los Angeles-based New Form. Other investors include Creative Artists Agency Inc. and Jim Wiatt, former head of the William Morris talent agency, according to a statement today. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Discovery is tapping the Oscar-winning team behind “A Beautiful Mind” in a push to produce scripted online videos, joining other big media companies making investments in that space. Walt Disney Co. last week acquired Maker Studios, the biggest network on YouTube, while Warner Bros. recently led an $18 million investment in Machinima, a network focused on video game culture.

“We’ve been having a great run in traditional cable,” Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav said in a telephone interview. “If the world wasn’t changing, we would just be focused on the cable world, but people are spending time on other platforms.”

Discovery is also backing Tapp, an online video service from former NBC chief Jeff Gaspin and ex-CNN head Jon Klein, that features long and short-form programs on channels tied to specific interests such as sports, politics and faith.

In 2012, the owner of the TLC and Animal Planet cable networks acquired digital video producer Revision3 to produce nonfiction programs that can be watched across TV and the Web.

Social Networks

New Form advances those earlier investments by creating and distributing videos that are 8 to 10 minutes in length for viewing on YouTube, social networks operated by Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc., or any other online location where audiences turn for entertainment, Zaslav said.

“We’re in a race to be important and to have a voice on all platforms and have an impact on the way people consume content on every device,” he said. “It was a lot easier years ago when it was just on the TV set.”

New Form is developing a project with two well-known artists who have a track record with serialized shows, Grazer said, without providing specifics. Other investors in New Form include talent lawyer Craig Jacobson, media executive Ed Wilson and TV producer Michael Rosenberg.

Expect shows from New Form to be more akin to YouTube star PewDiePie than Howard and Grazer’s “Apollo 13” movie or Discovery’s “Naked and Afraid” TV series. To its founders, New Form will provide a place to experiment.

‘Creative Freedom’

“The Internet has always offered the promise of creative freedom,” Howard said by phone. “It’s something we’ve explored for years.”

Compared with cable programs, online video has lower production costs and fewer scheduling issues, allowing shows to be quickly posted and more closely reflect popular culture and news events.

Airing shows from New Form on Discovery’s cable channels isn’t a priority, Zaslav said. The venture does provide a possibility of expanded worldwide distribution through Discovery and its partners in the future, he said.

Imagine Entertainment, the Beverly Hills, California-based studio run by Howard and Grazer, will continue to produce TV shows, including Fox’s “24: Live Another Day,” and forthcoming films such as the James Brown biopic “Get on Up.”

Discovery, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, fell 0.3 percent to $83.91 at 2:05 p.m. in New York. The stock has declined 6.9 percent this year through yesterday, compared with a 2.3 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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