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Fast Track

8/03/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Animal Planet Focuses on Critters

New chief widens target audience to adults

By Anne Becker

New Animal Planet chief Marjorie Kaplan is putting her stamp on the network with programming focused on animals, rather than human personalities, in an effort to lure new viewers and advertisers.

Kaplan, president/general manager of Animal Planet Media and Discovery Kids Media, is making Mondays a night of adult-focused fare. She’s commissioning more originals, with an eye to improving quality by finding new production partners. And she is shifting the programming emphasis from personalities like Jeff Corwin and the late Steve Irwin to the animals themselves as characters.

The moves come in part at the behest of new Discovery Communications President/CEO David Zaslav, who has aggressively pushed to energize all the Discovery channels and Animal Planet specifically. Animal is one of the company’s only global networks but lags far behind bigger siblings Discovery and TLC in the ratings (in July, Animal averaged 542,000 total viewers in prime versus Discovery’s 1.38 million and TLC’s 1.03 million), according to Nielsen..

“We think there’s an opportunity to make Animal Planet more must-see TV,” says Kaplan, “more hot, more socially relevant, more tuned in to the entertainment values people watch television for.”

Animal saw big ratings success with last summer’s Meerkat Manor (premiere episodes averaged 856,000 total viewers) and launched an aggressive—and uncharacteristically sassy (print ads evoked The Sopranos with the tagline “The Family Is Back”)—marketing campaign behind its Aug. 10 return.

Animal will rerun Meerkat this season on Monday nights, aiming to bring the show adult viewers in addition to the families that make up the Friday-night audience. After its run, the network will likely keep that night as a destination for adult-skewing fare, targeting viewers 25-45 (median age is currently 47).

Looking for a follow-up hit, Animal will premiere Orangutan Island following Meerkat’s finale on Nov. 2 and then move it to Meerkat’s 8:30 p.m. time slot the following week. Orangutan focuses on a group of orphaned primates in Borneo and, like Meerkat, develops each as a character: the “lover,” the “bully,” the “prankster” and so on.

Other animal-focused shows in the works include Lemur Kingdom, a similar docusoap set in Madagascar, and several documentaries, including Saving the Species, an hour special on gorilla treks in Rwanda featuring animal expert Jack Hanna and actress Natalie Portman.

Kaplan was chosen by Zaslav to replace Maureen Smith at Animal when he shook up the company’s executive structure in February.

In this spring’s upfront, Animal Planet signed deals in categories new to the network, including automotive and insurance, and a major retailer.

“They’ve focused, and they have a really diverse content strategy,” says Ellen Liu, senior manager of media buying for Clorox Co. The company is a marquee sponsor of Animal’s 10 p.m. “Heroes” block and this year expanded its buy to include The Planet’s Funniest Animals.

FCC: Devices Interfere With DTV

The FCC said last week that all the new portable spectrum-sensing devices it tested failed digital-TV interference trials.

As promised, the FCC released results of its tests of the mobile devices it is considering allowing in the so-called white spaces of the DTV spectrum. Now the results buttress broadcasters’ concerns that the devices will interfere with DTV reception.

While the FCC said that newer models might be better and more testing was needed, the devices it did test did not get a passing grade.

“This report determined that the sample prototype white-space devices submitted to the commission for initial evaluation do not consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals,” the commission said, striking a blow to the hopes of companies looking to use the spectrum for portable devices like PDAs and game controllers.

“Our tests also found that the transmitter in the prototype device is capable of causing interference to TV broadcasting and wireless microphones,” it said.

In one test, where a DTV signal could be received by a TV at the test site, “the scanner reported its channel to be free or available 40%-75% of the time with an average of 58.2% of the time.”

An earlier FCC test of TV sets found interference to eight models tested.

The FCC has said it would allow fixed wireless devices in the band, which broadcasters do not object to, but it is also considering mobile and even unlicensed mobile remote-sensing devices as a way to further the Bush administration’s goal of more-flexible and -efficient spectrum use.—John Eggerton

'Hills' Creator DiVello Leaves MTV to Start Production Company

Senior MTV production/development executive Adam DiVello has left the network after nearly 10 years to found his own production company, Done and Done Productions.

DiVello, who created and has overseen all three seasons of the network’s smash-hit reality soap The Hills, is staying on as executive producer, managing day-to-day duties during shooting. Separately, Done and Done has a two-year, first-look development deal with MTV, where the company’s office are being housed for now. But per such deals, if the network passes on a show, he can shop it elsewhere.

Done and Done, whose moniker comes from the popular teen-speak phrase he (and, in turn, The Hills girls) regularly employs, will design to make both broadcast and cable shows that tell relatable stories, whether reality, live-action or animated, says DiVello.

“Ultimately, I’m a storyteller,” he says, “so I want to do shows that have same quality as The Hills that look good and tell stories in different ways than what you’ve seen before.”

The company is currently busy shooting the third season of The Hills; it debuts Aug. 13, but shooting will go through November since MTV upped its run from 12 to 18 episodes, so the season will run through December. After that, DiVello says, he will focus on developing new shows, both from internal ideas and outside pitches.

DiVello started out in the videotape library at MTV in 1997 and worked his way up through the production and development departments, along the way creating such shows as Crashing With and One Bad Trip and developing others, such as Made and Say What? Karaoke. He co-executive produced Laguna Beach as MTV’s senior executive on site during shooting and came up with the idea for its spinoff, The Hills, which follows Laguna’s lead character, Lauren Conrad.

Prior to MTV, he held stints at Live With Regis and Kathie Lee and production company Giraldi Suarez, where he worked on commercials for Dr Pepper and Jeep, among others.

DiVello has already begun taking pitches from contacts he has amassed during this time in the industry.

"Adam was an incredibly creative executive at MTV, and he’ll bring that creativity to his own production company," says his agent, Endeavor's Lance Klein "While at the network, he gained a great reputation in the industry that will serve him well moving forward.”—Anne Becker

March