Laura Brown isn't on the payroll of Discovery Communications Inc. Nor does she get sales commissions from it. But she could be Discovery's secret weapon in the cable programmer's quest to expand into the education business.
Last year, Brown, a media specialist for Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, signed up for unitedstreaming, Silver Spring-based Discovery's subscription-based, Internet-delivered video streaming application. Through unitedstreaming, teachers and students can view video clips that range in length from 30 seconds to 20 minutes and cover subjects from cell division to sexually transmitted diseases. The clips are categorized by state education standards and are searchable.
Brown was so impressed with unitedstreaming's offerings, she trained more than 200 teachers and students at her school to use it. She also touted the product at a professional conference and in library journal articles. "I can't say enough good things" about unitedstreaming, she said in a telephone interview.
Internet video streaming has advantages over traditional formats, Brown said. "It's so hard to get science videos. It gets so expensive, then people lose them or bring them back damaged." With unitedstreaming, she said, schools can choose from 20,000 video clips, save them to a hard drive, burn them onto CDs or integrate them into presentations. Through its new subsidiary, United Learning, Discovery also provides training and materials such as pre- and post-viewing exercises and teachers' guides.
Discovery Communications, the global media company that operates 60 networks in more than 160 countries, reaching over 1 billion subscribers, is betting that an army of converts such as Brown will ensure the success of unitedstreaming and the company's new business unit, Discovery Education.
Discovery launched Discovery Education in March, several months after it acquired United Learning, a 50-year-old producer and distributor of educational films and videos based in Evanston, Ill.
For anyone who thought Discovery was abandoning its nerdy roots with made-for-advertiser hits such as "Monster Garage" and "Trading Spaces," the new education division is out to prove that Discovery still knows how to dish out the broccoli.
The education business combines United Learning's offerings with Discovery's existing Discovery Channel School products, which include educational videotapes, CD-ROMs and print materials. Discovery has also participated in Cable in the Classroom, a not-for-profit cable industry initiative to provide programming to students.
Discovery executives stress, however, that the new venture is about making money, not just being good citizens.
The way Donald A. Baer, Discovery Communications' senior executive vice president for strategy and development, laid it out in a recent interview, unitedstreaming takes advantage of existing distribution channels, rising demand and cheap content in the form of Discovery's vast video library.