Discovery Plans to Expand Loudoun Center

Discovery Plans to Expand Loudoun Center

Montgomery County suffered a blow when one of its largest employers, Discovery Communications, announced it is moving headquarters to New York.

But Loudoun County is primed to gain, as company officials say the broadcast operations in a Sterling facility on the county’s eastern edge will be turned into a new global technology center.

Discovery – which not only operates the flagship science cable channel but other popular ones like The Learning Channel and Animal Planet – opened the broadcasting facility in 2005 near the intersection of Route 28 and Sterling Boulevard. The 55,000-square-foot center transmits more than 80 global feeds, housing multi-channel control rooms, high-tech network servers and other infrastructure.

The center employs a “small number of staff,” despite transmitting “a large number of on-air channels,” according to a report by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers following a group tour of the facility. The building is nondescript without the Discovery name on it, with the fenced-in grounds containing numerous large satellite antennas.

Discovery officials declined to discuss details on the changes to the Sterling operation beyond a statement in a news release that the upgraded center will feature the latest modern digital technology and “increased nonlinear publishing.” Capabilities will include moving all Discovery U.S. networks’ origination to cloud storage.

The new center is an exciting development, said Buddy Rizer, executive director of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development. “We will do everything we can to make that a smooth and successful process for them,” he said.

The moves are contingent upon Discovery closing on its proposed acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive, a Knoxville-based business that operates the Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel and others. That $14.6 billion deal is expected to be finalized by March 31. Discovery’s national operations are planned to be housed in Knoxville with worldwide leadership offices in New York.

Discovery is adapting to the broadcast media industry’s increasingly global, multi-platform and consumer-oriented focus, CEO David Zaslav said in a statement. “The decision to move our global headquarters from its founding home is one we do not make lightly,” he said. “We remain unwavering in our support of the Maryland and Greater Washington, D.C., area.”

While many positions are moving to New York or Knoxville, Discovery will maintain a Maryland office for functions such as government relations. The company was founded in Landover in 1985, then moved headquarters to Bethesda in 1991 and Silver Spring in 2003. Discovery employs about 1,300 people in Silver Spring.

The company’s programming reaches some 3 billion cumulative viewers worldwide.

With the expected move in 2019, the number of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters in Maryland will decline to three unless a lower-ranked company makes a substantial jump. They are all in Bethesda – defense giant Lockheed Martin, Marriott International and Host Hotels & Resorts.

Virginia is home to the headquarters of 23 Fortune 500 businesses, which are ranked by gross revenues. While none are in Loudoun County, 11 are in Reston, Falls Church and other parts of Northern Virginia. Those include three in the top 100: Falls Church-based defense company General Dynamics, and mortgage business Freddie Mac and Capital One Financial, both in McLean.

Dulles-based aerospace and defense company Orbital ATK, which ranked 549th on the 2017 Fortune list, is the largest business by revenues headquartered in Loudoun.

Several large satellite antennas sit on Discovery’s grounds in Sterling. [Kevin Shay photo]

The entrance to Discovery’s center in Sterling contains no company signage. [Kevin Shay photo]