The word discovery implies there’s something new to find, but I’ve spent the past few weeks steadily making my way through a show that’s been on the air for more than 20 years, thanks to Discovery Plus: House Hunters.
Thanks to House Hunters (and House Hunters International, alongside Tiny House Hunters) my days spent inside, working from home and doing nothing but watching TV, have transitioned almost exclusively to Discovery Plus. It exists as white noise in my apartment: the buzzing of couples arguing over whether to pay the full $560,000 for a house in the nice neighborhood closer to the cute bistro or take a chance on the $480,000 home that needs some work but is way under budget emitting from my TV set. From the time I start working until the second I’m beginning to wind down, House Hunters plays continuously on its dedicated channel housed within Discovery Plus.
“Our bet is when the world makes a full rotation, that the content people have chosen when they could choose anything on TV or cable, the content that they love and run home for — 90 Day, Fixer Upper, Property Brothers — they’re still going to love that,” Discovery CEO David Zaslav told The New York Times in a recent interview.
Discovery Plus, home to shows from networks like HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and the Food Network, launched at just the right moment, when ambient television was becoming a fixture in people’s homes during the pandemic. Author and journalist Kyle Chayka referred to ambient TV as something “you don’t have to pay attention to in order to enjoy but which is still seductive enough to be compelling if you choose to do so momentarily.” For Chayka, that was Emily in Paris. This reasoning is also what makes House Hunters, as well as 90 percent of the series on Discovery Plus, perfect ambient television.
Streaming also makes ambient TV possible in a way cable television can’t because there’s a total ad-free option. Loud commercials that play every seven minutes cease to exist. Functionally, I have the option to throw on a House Hunters channel that streams episodes of the show 24/7 and forget about it. Streaming services are designed to make viewing as effortless as possible and keep people’s attention once they’ve started watching TV.
So far, it’s working out better than expected for Discovery Plus. The company has signed up more than 11 million subscribers to the platform since it launched in early January. Discovery’s target audience is people between 25 and 54, a wide bracket but one with the most disposable income as of 2019, according to Statista. The disposable income of a household led by a person between the ages of 25 and 54 ranged between $69,700 and $91,400 in 2019, Statista reported. Add in that cord-cutting continues to happen at an accelerated rate and that millennials are one of the biggest groups to sign up for three or more streaming services, and Discovery Plus’ potential is obvious.
Zaslav chalked up the impressive initial signups as proof that “people really don’t change that much,” when talking to the Times. That’s probably true, but having an ad-free option that does for adults and college students what Frozen 2 on Disney Plus or Cocomelon on YouTube and Netflix repeats do for kids has become essential in my home. To quote a popular TikTok meme, House Hunters on Discovery Plus leads to “empty head, no thoughts.”
There’s another term for this: waiting room television. Like daytime TV talk shows or new soap opera episodes, shows like 90 Day Fiancé, House Hunters, and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives are just interesting enough to catch someone’s fleeting attention, but they’re monotonous enough to not become total distractions. They simply exist to keep people entertained if they want but can float into the background if someone would rather check in on Instagram or read a book instead — or, in my case, work.
Discovery Plus still has a long way to go. There are basic product features that need to be fixed (finding on-demand videos instead of 24/7 channels is more difficult than it should be), and I haven’t seen any new series or specials that have caught my attention. Discovery also has to ensure that it’s keeping the vast majority of those who do sign up. For now, Discovery filled a need I didn’t know I had while working at home — pure, ongoing, ambient TV that I don’t have to think about for hours the second I hit play.