The 27th annual Shark Week, Discovery Channel’s biggest event of the year, kicks off on Sunday night at 8 p.m. and ad avails and sponsorship across all seven nights of primetime programming is sold out. In fact, Shark Week 2015 is already heavily sold, although marketers can still get into it.
“Shark Week has become Discovery’s Super Bowl,” says Scott Felenstein, executive VP of ad sales for the network. “It not only draws our regular viewers, but also pulls in lots of casual viewers who wait all year for this week of special shark-related programming. People are even having Shark Week parties much like they have Super Bowl parties. It’s become one of the big holiday events of the summer, in between the Fourth of July and Labor Day.”
Felenstein says Shark Week has become so popular with advertisers that last year the network added a new live talk show at 11 p.m. each night titled Shark After Dark, which offered more commercial opportunities and sponsorships for marketers. Shark After Dark, which is hosted by comedian Josh Wolf, is back again this year and its nightly telecast is also sold out of ad and sponsorship avails.
“Shark Week started out as four and five nights a week and then it was expanded to seven,” Felenstein says. “Last year, we added Shark After Dark outside of primetime. Our biggest challenge has been we only have one week to fit all the advertisers in.”
However, Felenstein says no discussions have taken place about expanding Shark Week beyond its current seven days of primetime programming, but he said the network could possibly begin its Shark Week programming night at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. if advertiser demand is there going forward.
Two advertisers with large Shark Week ad buys are MillerCoors, which Felenstein says is going to be promoting its Red Apple Ale, and Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette, which will be marketing its Fusion razor. Felenstein says there will also be major studio advertisers, insurance companies, restaurants and a top candy brand, though he wouldn’t disclose who they are.
Returning for its third year as a Shark Week presenting sponsor is Volkswagen, and Dunkin Donuts is on board for the first time with a major sponsorship.
Coming off its successful integration last year, which featured the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible Shark Cage, VW this year will be promoting its 2015 Golf TDI Clean Diesel model. On-air elements will revolve around three 60-second short-form videos featuring the cast of Discovery series Dude, You’re Screwed.
Three “Non-Stop Shark Week Challenges” will be hosted on Discovery’s Shark Week site, www.vwsharkweek.com. “Non-Stop Drive” will dare Web surfers to scroll through a “567-mile long” website (the number of miles per gallon drivers of the Golf TDI get on a tank of gas); “Non-Stop Performance” will force viewers to keep their eyes on the lookout for sharks during a loop of sharks feeding, breaching and attacking; and “Non-Stop Agility” will allow those with webcams to “swim” through underwater footage by bobbing their heads back and forth like a shark.
The results of those challenges can be shared with friends via social media and those who complete the challenges will be eligible for entries in sweepstakes that will result in one person being named “King of Shark Week Challenge” and receiving a cash prize along with Shark Week gear.
The on-air content was developed by Discovery Channel’s ad sales marketing team and The Agency, Discovery Communications’ in-house creative unit, in conjunction with Volkswagen’s creative agency of record, Deutsch Los Angeles.
Not to be outdone, Dunkin Donuts, says Felenstein, also has a “360 degree partnership” with the network that includes on-air commercials, integrations, online, social and in-store elements.
Beginning last Monday, Dunkin Donuts began sponsoring a “Take a Bite, Take a Pic” contest. Anyone who shares a selfie on Twitter or Instagram using a special hashtag, taken while biting into their favorite Dunkin Donuts breakfast item, is eligible for prizes, including a $100 Dunkin Donuts gift card and a Shark Week prize pack. Participants could also be featured on Shark After Dark. Each night, host Josh Wolf will encourage viewers to vote online for the “Dunkin Bite of the Nite.” Winners will have their photos shown on the show.
Dunkin Donuts and Discovery also are offering Shark Week fans an interactive TV experience, developed and designed by Dunkin’s agency Hill Holliday, on Xbox One. Viewers who are watching Shark Week programming through their Xbox One can “snap” their Internet Explorer browser window to the edge of their TV screen, which will provide a live feed of #SharkWeek social content, interactive quizzes, real-time polls and other activities while they continue to watch the programming live on Discovery.
Jamie Scheu, VP and director of experience design at Hill Holliday says, “This is the first time a paid advertiser has created an interactive experience like this for live television programming via Xbox One. For Shark Week fans watching the show on their Xbox One, it offers additional content and a second-screen experience on their primary screen, their television.”
Dunkin has also created a special Shark Week donut, which it began selling on Monday. The “Shark Bite Donut” is topped with white and red icing designed to resemble a life preserver.
Last year’s Shark Week was the most watched in the event’s 26-year history in total viewers and across all key demos. Total viewership for the week was 53.1 million. Shark Week 2013 was also Discovery Channel’s biggest social programming event to date, generating more than 2.6 million Tweets for the week, a 63% increase over 2012 Shark Week.
In its first year, Shark After Dark was highly competitive among late-night cable talk shows on most nights of the week in the 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 demos.
Felenstein says Shark Week has grown into a year-round ad sell for the network, although the biggest chunk of ad time and sponsorships are sold during the upfront period. “We have a lot of deals already in the book for Shark Week 2015 and Shark Week 2014 has not even happened yet,” he says. “We do try to save some ad inventory for scatter but right now Shark Week 2015 is better sold at this point than any previous Shark Week. Demand over the past few years has taken off. No one buys just single commercial units anymore. For the most part, everything we sell for Shark Week are multiple unit packages across the entire week, and sponsorships.”