Media Headliner: King of the gimmick takes charge of Discovery

Dan Brooke, once famed for outrageous stunts, is now a pay-TV big-hitter capable of leading the network.

These are exciting times for Discovery Networks. Last week, its sponsorship of a top cycling team paid off when its rider, Lance Armstrong, won his seventh Tour de France. And then, this week, it announced that Dan Brooke, Channel 4's controller of digital channels, would soon be riding into Discovery's UK operation as its general manager.

Once nicknamed TV's "king of the gimmick" for his love of out-rageous stunts while he was the marketing director of Paramount Comedy Channel, Brooke has matured into a man with a formidable reputation in the world of pay-TV via his stewardship of FilmFour and then E4.

An erstwhile adman, he worked at Chiat Day and St Luke's for six years in the early 90s, and was rewarded for the successful launch of E4 with a promotion in 2003 to managing director of Channel 4's 4 Channels division, overseeing pay-TV, interactive TV and online. However, it looks as if Channel 4's retrenchment from pay-TV under its chief executive, Andy Duncan, (involving E4 going free-to-air on Freeview, with FilmFour expected to follow suit) may have restricted Brooke's development.

Brooke doesn't necessarily see it like this, but his move to Discovery will certainly put him right back at the coalface of pay-TV, working across nine Discovery brands and negotiating deals with the likes of Sky for carriage of the channels.

He says there was still plenty to do at Channel 4: "Channel 4 is strengthening its core business in UK TV - the switch from analogue to digital - so it looks like its commitment to pay-TV is decreasing, but it is still facing the big strategic question of how it capitalises on the opportunity of pay-TV."

Brooke replaces his former colleague David Abraham in the role at Discovery (the two worked together at St Luke's, where Abraham was the managing director). Abraham left in February to take the role of senior vice-president at Discovery's US brand The Learning Channel.

No doubt a word in the ear from Abraham to Discovery's Europe managing director, Robin Paxton, helped Brooke to secure the job. Paxton is clear that he has hired Brooke for his track record in steering Channel 4's digital strategy: "Dan will bring both vision and fresh impetus to the leadership of our UK business."

But why did Brooke take the job? "It's a great brand and what they put on the telly is fantastic, it's something that I can get passionate about. The opportunity to be in charge of nine channels of amazing programming is great," he says.

One of the early decisions that Brooke may have to face is the continued existence of Discovery's brands, which include Discovery Channel spin-offs such as Real Time and Home & Health, as pure pay-TV offers. Tess Alps, the chairman of PHD, says: "It's a great fit for Dan. Discovery is a lovely brand with a long tradition but it now has to face the threat of Freeview - freesat is definitely an issue. It has wonderful brands and output but its channels aren't on Freeview. The two brands we knew would get Freeview flying off the shelf when it launched were E4 and Discovery - now, E4 is on Freeview but obviously Discovery would be giving up a lot of subscription revenue if it went down the same route."

Brooke argues that Discovery, which built a 2.1 per cent share of June viewing in UK multichannel homes across its channels, is committed to the pay-TV model. "It is very successful in the UK, growing audiences each year for five years," he says. "It's a question of building on a successful base.

"There's a swell of consolidation in the UK market and Discovery needs to think of its role - there will be opportunities, I think. It is committed to pay-TV and to Sky's view that pay-TV will achieve mass-market penetration."

Those who know Brooke say he is the right man to lead Discovery through potentially exciting times. Tom Knox, the managing director of Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, worked with Brooke at Chiat Day. He says: "Dan was unbelievably conscientious. If a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well. He does things with extreme thoroughness - taking things almost too seriously and beating himself up about things."

But, as well as possessing this hardworking, heads-down approach, there is also a massively creative side to Brooke. An art collector who has sat on a Tate Gallery committee, friends say he's a frustrated artist himself and that a career in TV semi-assuages his need to be involved in a creative process.

Brooke is the son of the former Tory MP and secretary of state for Northern Ireland Peter Brooke, but apparently doesn't share his father's politics.

Alluding to this and his youthful appearance, Alps says: "He looks like he should be editing a student Marxist magazine."

There's no doubt that Brooke likes the cutting-edge nature of digital and pay-TV and the public policy issues that surround it. Knox says: "Dan enjoys the avant-garde, the next new thing. He has a low boredom threshold and constantly needs things chucking at him."

There should be no shortage of opportunity at Discovery, especially if Brooke's paymasters decide to get out their chequebooks to expand its UK portfolio. In the meantime, you could do worse than check out the reruns of River Cottage on Discovery Real Time.

THE LOWDOWN Age: 37 Lives: About to move to a house my wife and I built in N16 Family: Married to Juliet, five-week-old son Gus Most treasured possession: Easy - family Describe yourself in three words: Sleep-deprived optimist Last book read: That well-known page-turner Site-Specific Art: Performance, Place & Documentation Favourite TV show: Any Discovery programme - literally any one Interests outside work: Art, architecture, watching telly