Discovery Channel is showing no fear by launching Shark Week this weekend and concluding it during the busy July Fourth holiday weekend. The rollout is a week earlier than last year and the earliest in the tentpole event's history.
Last year Shark Week began on Sunday, July 5, the final day of the holiday weekend, but this year it will end three days into the long weekend, on July 3.
The shift, on the surface, could seem like a gamble. A network is opting to air its most popular week of programming over a weekend when folks are traditionally outdoors rather than home in front of their TV sets.
But Discovery officials have several strategic reasons for moving Shark Week earlier. It helps to have momentum. Ratings last year set records in the 25-54-year-old demo and hit the second highest overall viewer average in the history of the franchise.
In planning this year’s move, Discovery is aiming to have sharks signify the official start of summer, echoed by the July Fourth holiday. And it sees a major event like Shark Week, when network viewership is surging, as an ideal way to promote all of its new summer programming ahead of the Summer Olympics. The Games will be televised Aug. 5-21 across the NBCUniversal broadcast and cable networks.
“These shows are going to have to compete with the Olympics for viewers so it will be good for us to get the word out early,” says Lara Richardson, senior VP, marketing, at Discovery.
Richardson also says that Shark Week draws a lot of viewers who normally aren’t regular viewers of the network, so it’s a good time to trot out commercials promoting their programming in hopes of getting them to return later.
Until last year, Shark Week had aired in August, gaining popularity as a tonic to draw channel surfers who were, in the early years of the stunt, largely stuck with little else but reruns and preseason NFL games. Richardson says Rich Ross, who came on board as Discovery president in October 2014, after that year’s Shark Week concluded, wanted to make it a start-of-summer rather than an end-of-summer event.
The move paid off. Last year, Shark Week averaged 2.5 million viewers, No. 2 all-time behind the 2013 event, which averaged 2.56 million. In its target 25-54 demo, it set a record by averaging a 1.46, beating out the previous record in the demo of 1.42.
The network during last year’s Shark Week also set a record for total-day viewing, averaging 1.26 million viewers, beating the previous high of 1.2 million in 2013.
The three most-watched programs were Super Predator with 3.55 million viewers, Island of the Mega Shark with 3.28 million and Monster Mako with 3.26 million. The latter two shows aired on the opening night of the 2015 Shark Week, July 5, which was also the final night of the holiday weekend, proving that while many folks were in transit back home from their long weekend, many were indeed already home and in front of their TV sets.
Discovery is not resting on last year’s laurels, however, and is running a sizable and spread out TV campaign, promoting Shark Week on both its own network and on other broadcast and cable networks.
The TV campaign is built around this year’s Shark Week theme “Shark ‘n’ Awe” and there are three different TV spots that began running on Discovery and its sister channels. In addition, TV ads are also running on networks and programming where Discovery marketing officials believe potential Shark Week viewers will be watching.
“We know who our Shark Week viewers are and where we can reach them,” Richardson says. One broadcast show that’s a no-brainer for Shark Week promotion, even though it’s in between seasons, is ABC’s Shark Tank. Discovery has also targeted Major League Baseball on assorted MLB game telecasts.
Network marketers will go after beachgoers on the holiday weekend, using low-flying planes up and down the East and West coasts Friday through Sunday to promote the week. And the network has also been running a 30-second underwater shark video spot on YouTube.
On the marketing front, the Discovery team has also pulled in five new partners: 7-Eleven, Six Flags Theme Parks, Lokai, Hitcase and VolunteerMatch. They join returning Shark Week marketing partners including Macy’s, StoneCold Creamery, Southwest Airlines, Knockaround Sunglasses, Georgetown Cupcake, Ubisoft apps, Hungry Shark Evolution and Hungry Shark World.
MillerCoors has been a Shark Week advertiser for six years and has been promoting Redd’s for the last three. This year, for the second time, Redd’s will be prominently promoted via a special bar on the Shark After Dark set. Lauren Gastwirth, VP of client and brand partnerships at Discovery, says the Redd’s bar will be more prominently integrated into this year’s live show.
Shark After Dark, the late-night talk show that airs following primetime Shark Week programming, will again be hosted by director, producer and actor Eli Roth (Hostel). It will air on five consecutive nights beginning on opening night June 26. Shark After Dark brings celebrity guests on each night to discuss the programming that aired earlier that night. Among the guests scheduled to appear during this year’s Shark Week are Chelsea Handler and Kevin Hart.
Redd’s has been running a special custom content TV spot featuring “Bob the Shark” that is both a promo for the “official beer of Shark Week” and for Shark Week programming.
In addition to most of the partners advertising with commercials during the Shark Week programming, they also have promotions tied into Shark Week that run outside of TV, from cupcakes and plane wraps to contests and branded apparel.
In addition to physical promotions, Gastwirth says Discovery has also been working with marketing partners to create custom Shark Week digital content. These pieces will run across Discovery platforms and also be syndicated on social media sites.
Gastwirth adds that in addition to the major marketing partners, a broad mix of brands will run traditional commercials throughout Shark Week programming. She says there has been a significant increase among movie studios (whose summer calendar also favors early July over August). Also, for the first time there will be brands from the travel category.