Discovery Channel: The Biggest Science Audience?


In today's fragmented media environment, how do we actually reach "mass" audiences with science-related content? Or similarly, if you are a company or organization trying to promote your science credentials to a diverse audience, what is the best outlet for doing so?

Well it appears that the Discovery Channel and its affiliated sister channels might be an optimal choice. Consider the findings from a recent analysis I ran on data collected by Pew in 2006.

Roughly half of Americans say they regularly watch either the Discovery or Learning Channels. In comparison, roughly 10% say they regularly watch PBS Nova, roughly 10% say they subscribe to either Science, Nature, Scientific American, or Discover, and only 37% of Americans have visited a Natural History or science museum in the last year.

Not only do Discovery and the Learning Channel reach a sizable audience of Americans, their regular viewers span demographic segments. For example, nearly 50% of both non-college and college-educated Americans say that they regularly watch these two sister cable networks. Viewership also splits relatively evenly across age groups and ideological orientation with roughly half of liberals, moderates, and conservatives saying they regularly watch the channel. The network even captures a strongly religious audience, with nearly 40% of evangelicals saying they regularly tune in.

You can debate just how much science content is on the Discovery or Learning Channels, but clearly, based on the size and diversity of their audience, their parent company Discovery Communications has figured out a formula that works in today's competitive media world.

The PBS NOVA audience also has special qualities and characteristics. If a company or organization wants to reach a core audience of science enthusiasts and influentials, this might be the best outlet to be featured at or to sponsor. Based on my analysis of the Pew data, here are some key findings:

About 11% of Americans say they regularly watch Nova. Not surprisingly these viewers comprise a core audience of strong science enthusiasts, with 25% of the "attentive public" for science saying they are regular viewers and 16% of college educated Americans responding that they regularly tune-in. NOVA viewers also tend to be heavier consumers of other science media with:

*75% regular viewers of either the Discovery or the Learning Channel (compared to 47% of the general public)

*50% having visited a science museum in the past year (compared to 36% of the public)

*18% subscribing to a science magazine such as Scientific American, Science, or Discover (compared to 11% of the public).

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Discovery and TLC are woo channels. Any real science they show gets buried under all the ghost, cryptozoology, UFO and psychic crap. Worthless for reaching people interested in science (unless those people like watching Trading Spaces or What Not to Wear).

Did you find any correlates with education levels or whether people lived in rural or urban areas?

I was looking forward to a discourse on "how do we actually reach 'mass' audiences with science-related content", as hinted at in the first paragraph, but discussion seems to be restricted to just one particular foreign country.

I'm confused... apart from the fact that Discovery/TLC are more popular than PBS NOVA, science mags, or science museums, what's your point?

Right off the bat, I'll say I can't accept the argument that Discovery Channel is the "biggest science audience" without a breakdown that actually shows science content being consumed. That 50% figure you give includes audiences drawn in by "The Deadliest Catch," "What Not to Wear," "Trading Spaces," and "American Choppers."

Agreed. Now we know the target.

It's not easy bringing a show to Discovery at a time to reach the mass audience.It takes serious bucks and big time TV production. How do you get a project approved for a special on the channel?

You can debate just how much science content is on the Discovery or Learning Channels...

Actually this is important. What percentage of their viewers are tuning into watch stuff like Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, and so on? Those are their biggest programs and they aren't science. Why should those people watch a science special?

Actually, the History Channel has better science programming. I watch all kinds of cool stuff about astronomy, paleontology, and archaeology that the Discovery Channel doesn't show. There may be less viewers total, but its still a huge audience, and there may be a higher percentage of people actually interested in science watching (I don't know this, of course, I'm just figuring that the people who watch Dirty Jobs may not be the same people who will watch a special on Aztec archaeology).

Once upon a time I was one of these Discovery/TLC watchers too. Then one day I realized that all the science had gone away, and I was left with little more than sensationalized technobabble and dinosaur porn. I haven't regularly watched TV since. The formula they've found may work, insofar as they have an audience and advertisers, but the debate about just how much science content is actually reaching their viewers is central, not peripheral.