Investigation Discovery’s Secret Formula for Keeping You Tuned in All Day

Audiences watch ID longer than any other network

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It's happened to millions of TV viewers at some point: They stumble upon Investigation Discovery while channel surfing and are instantly pulled into one of the network's lurid, true-crime shows like Wives With Knives, Homicide Hunter, Nightmare Next Door or Happily Never After. Hours later, they're still glued to the screen. Resistance is futile for many viewers.

That's because Investigation Discovery is better than any other U.S. broadcast or cable network at grabbing viewers and keeping them tuned in. This year, it ranks No. 1 among all broadcast and cable networks in total-day length of tune, with an average of 50 minutes among adults 25-54 and 54 minutes for women 25-54. 

Those numbers are double the TV total-day average (24 minutes for adults 25-54 and 27 minutes for women 25-54) and 10 minutes ahead of the No. 2 network in length of tune—Disney Junior, which averages 40 minutes for adults 25-54 and 43 minutes for women 25-54.

ID's prime-time length of tune averages are also impressive: 29 minutes among adults 25-54 (the average is 19 minutes) and 32 minutes for women 25-54 (the average is 21 minutes).

What is Investigation Discovery's secret to hooking viewers, keeping them glued to their screens and away from their remotes? Henry Schleiff, group president at Investigation Discovery, Military Channel and Destination America, took Adweek through the channel's five keys to success.

Grab viewers in the first five minutes. "One of the things that all of our incredible production and editors look at, especially our senior executives, is that first five minutes," said Schleiff. "In this world, there is such competition for your viewership and you're so quick to move that one of our keys to success is grabbing you in that first five minutes. The middle is always easy because there's just a ton of different stuff going on—and then you want to stay till the end." 

Reward them with a solid payoff at the end of the hour. "Anybody who says, 'You know, I think I realize who did it. I think I see the red herring. I think I see the evidence and how they're going to connect,' they want to stay tuned for the payoff," said Schleiff. And ID viewers know the answers are coming at the end of the hour; they don't have to wait until the day or week's episode for the story to wrap up. "It's not going to be two days from now. We don't play multi-episode series, generally. We have closed end, and there's a payoff at the end."

Then, repeat the cycle again. Once an episode ends, "We go seamlessly into the next one," said Schleiff. And once again, if the viewer gets hooked in the first five minutes (see step one), they're pulled back in for another hour.

Seal the deal with a memorable series title. An important part of Investigation Discovery's brand is its series titles, which are simultaneously ridiculous and riveting. "It's no secret that we're all competing for people's attention. And one of the ways to get that is with what is either a catchy or funny title," said Schleiff. The exec who dreamed up Wives With Knives himself—one of the few shows in which the title came before the concept—said most of the titles "are a product of singularly the most dysfunctional staff meetings in the history of television, with people at all ends of the table in a large group just yelling what they think and spitballing titles. It is one of the most fun aspects of the job."

Keep the channel's tone consistent all day. No matter the time of day or what show is airing, Investigation Discovery is like the opposite of a box of chocolates: Viewers always know what they're going to get. "We don't do something different in the daytime from what we're doing in prime time, and so people may grab something in fringe, they may see something as they're going out the door in the morning, they may be around on the weekend and they say, 'Wow, that looks like something that could be really cool later in the evening,'" said Schleiff.

"It's consistency in a world of confusion," he said, noting that in a world with more than 160 advertiser-supported, Nielsen-rated networks, "you're able to say, 'I'm not sure what's on at 9 tonight, but I know if I go to ID at 9, I'm going to get a story with certain beats to it, certain elements to it. I know I'm going to be amazed; I know I'm going to be interested. And you get that, and that consistency of brand is really serving us well."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.