What was once a wildlife-centric channel has evolved into a much more mainstream entertainment platform. Skewing 60% male, 40% female, National Geographic Channel's primetime scheduled is anchored by original series and specials. Much like competitors Discovery and History, NGC of late has been focusing on male-skewing character-driven series. Also, crime-oriented series and specials remain a key component of the schedule, although a number of different factual genres are being explored. Ancient mysteries, contemporary fringe cultures and big science specials help round out the line-up. February 2013 saw the debut of the network's first original factual drama, KILLING LINCOLN, which set ratings records in its debut on Sunday, 2/17/13.
Repeats of the previous week's premiere episodes are likely to serve as the lead-in for the current week's premiere, providing the network with two-hour blocks of its top programming most nights.
MARCH 2013 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + SD Primetime Ratings Comparison / March 2013 vs. March 2012 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
In 2012, Nat Geo made it clear that they are expanding their brand and reach when it comes to factual content. This has paid off well for the network, whose scheduling strategy changes and programming choices have led to strong year-to-year growth. February saw the debut of the network's first original factual drama, KILLING LINCOLN, which set ratings records in its debut on Sunday, 2/17/13. March saw the premieres of two new series, ARE YOU TOUGHER THAN A BOY SCOUT? and APOCALYPSE 101, and more year-to-year growth in network average.
ARE YOU TOUGHER THAN A BOY SCOUT debuted on Monday 3/4/13. Though the night had stellar year-to-year growth, it was due much more to strong performances by ALASKA STATE TROOPERS (the top rated show for the network in March) and INSIDE COMBAT RESCUE. ARE YOU TOUGHER never managed to hit above average, and numbers fell quickly after its mediocre debut.
March's other premiere, APOCALYPSE 101, debuted on Tuesday, 3/12/13, in the 10pm slot, with WICKED TUNA re-aris and DOOMSDAY PREPPERS as lead-ins. The night was down 25% in overall viewers, and similarly down among men. DOOMSDAY pulled in only average numbers, and newcomer APOCALYPSE 101 struggled in its debut, then lost viewers later in the month.
Wednesday and Thursday nights also took hits compared to last year. Re-airs of INSIDE COMBAT RESCUE and ALASKA STATE TROOPERS weren't able to hit average, and LORDS OF WAR, scheduled back-to-back in the 10pm slot, struggled as well. Thursday night's primetime lineup was anchored by HIGHWAY THRU HELL, AMERICAN COLONY: HUTTERITES, and a variety of rotating series and specials. Very little hit average, though a special on 3/28, JESUS: RISE TO POWER, came close, and NGC tried to capitalize on the current "bible trend" in the cable zeitgeist.
More bible-themed programming drove Friday night's up 48% over March 2012. Several specials scored well and were among the top programs of the month for the network, including GOSPEL OF JUDAS and SEARCH FOR NOAH'S ARK on 3/29. Also scoring well was a special, the 400 MILLION DOLLAR EMERALD.
Saturday's lineup of ALASKA STATE TROOPERS and re-airs of WICKED TUNA also brought in big numbers, and drove the night up 36% compared to last year. Sundays were also up, as fresh TUNA consistently delivers numbers that are close to double average for NGC. However, numbers fell sharply for MUDCATS, in the 10pm slot.
With the great numbers scored by KILLING LINCOLN last month, we expect more in the scripted genre from Nat Geo. As several of its competitors also start actively producing in this space, it's going to be a battle of marketing strategy, scheduling, and ultimately, quality of production, that emerge on top. The remainder of 2013 will undoubtedly be an exciting year for Nat Geo.