The last time Mediaweek spoke to Discovery’s Darren Chau it was during the middle of Covid-19 lockdowns in May 2020. At the time Discovery’s Australia and New Zealand head of content, production and channels was juggling the growing portfolio of programming and wondering how many episodes of the various shows he would be able to deliver.
In a new Mediaweek podcast, Chau updated us: “We went into last year hoping to have our biggest year of local production and despite the pandemic, we kept every single hour of filming. Hats off to all our production partners in setting up safe workplaces inside safe production bubbles.”
Chau oversees the Discovery pay TV brands across Australia and New Zealand, plus the FTA channel in Australia, 9Rush, a JV with Nine that was launched in April 2020. “We are very happy with how that channel is tracking. It delivers to men and very quickly hit its targets.”
Discovery channels are available in Australia on Foxtel and in 2020 Discovery expanded its presence on Fetch with additional channels – Animal Planet, the new Investigation Discovery [ID] and Turbo.
“In New Zealand, we have expanded significantly after initially acquiring Top TV just over a year ago who run HGTV and Choice TV. Just before Christmas we completed the acquisition of MediaWorks.
“We now reach many more people across all screens. We were initially just a pay TV business, but in the last year have expanded and diversified.”
Driving many hours on the suite of channels is content produced in Australia, programming that has expanded 10-fold in the past five years.
The programs need to not just work in Australia and New Zealand, but to also attract an audience globally. The two most-successful properties to come out of Australia are Aussie Gold Hunters and Outback Opal Hunters which have aired in more than 100 countries.
“In the past year both series have screened on Discovery in the US on the #1 cable channel for men. They screen both shows on their #1 night of the week.”
The global premiere of Outback Opal Hunters on February 4 is the sixth season of the Prospero Productions series. The lead-in is the final episode of the latest series of Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail, a Canadian production which filmed the season in Australia.
“The new season of Outback Opal Hunters will be the best season yet,” said Chau. “We have some amazing new characters joining the series. Prospero is second-to-none at being to discover amazing, engaging and unique characters. In the new series, we have The Bishop, who is actually a bishop, an opal miner and someone who has been training in martial arts for about two decades and volunteers his services as the bouncer in the local pub.
“This series also features the most valuable piece of opal found to-date. It is worth over $120,000. Then, even bigger than that, is the single-biggest haul ever. I won’t tell you which team and the exact value, but I can tell you the haul totalled over $1m. It’s a very dangerous job they do, but every now and then you can be made a millionaire overnight.”
Chau emphasised the $1m find was the biggest haul ever across all of Discovery’s strike-it-rich shows. “We have reached $1m twice before, but that was an accumulated total across an entire season for teams. This is a single find.”
Season 5 of Outback Opal Hunters launched just last October with eight episodes, and season six is made up of 12 episodes. When it wraps around the end of April it will be time for more of Aussie Gold Hunters.
Joining the portfolio of Discovery’s Australian programming is Sydney Harbour Force which is from WTFN. The series has been in production for some time, following Harbour Police around the iconic Sydney waterway. This new series ensures that Discovery remains easily the biggest international commissioner of Australian programming. The program is a joint commission with Discovery UK.
“I have been looking for a policing series for a few years. We have come close, and we nearly commissioned one last year and we had one in development for some time but it didn’t quite work out. We have been filming across Christmas and up to Australia Day and we look forward to sharing some of those stories later in the year.”
Also in the podcast, Chau discusses worldwide interest in Australia programming and reveals how the head of content works with his production partners across the various programs.
He also previews the mammoth new season of Aussie Gold Hunters, a series of 20 episodes. Chau also updates the ratings success of the program.
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