Advertisers Walk on the Wild Side

One Of The Newest cable networks had a particularly Wild first upfront. Three months after replacing Fox Reality Channel, National Geographic Wild drew 40% more dollars in commitments from advertisers than the Fox-run channel had expected, according to Rich Goldfarb, the network’s senior VP of ad sales.

Goldfarb already knew he had a hit on his hands: During its first quarter on the air, Wild sold out all of its ad time. “We actually had more demand than inventory, which, for a new channel, could be unprecedented,” he says.

Some of those ads went to sponsors who had bought Fox Reality in the last upfront, but more than three dozen advertisers bought into Wild, including Geico, Subaru, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and Expedia.

And selling out the network usually means it’s time to raise the rates. “When we reached that saturation point after having just launched the channel, we recognized that there probably was some upside to the pricing dynamic,” Goldfarb says.

In this upfront, even more advertisers went Wild in categories including automotive, movies, consumer electronics, financials, consumer packaged goods, quick-serve restaurants, retail and travel.

Wild emphasizes nature and wild-animal programs at a time when National Geographic Channel is turning toward episodic series.

Adding a Dozen Newcomers
“This brand-new channel had a half-dozen commitments in the seven- digit-dollar category, which is very remarkable for the first time in an upfront,” Goldfarb says. And he points out that the channel added more than a dozen advertisers in the upfront that hadn’t been sponsors previously. In all, the network sold more inventory than it had planned, and got higher prices than it anticipated.

Some advertisers bought cross-platform deals that incorporated both National Geographic Channel and Wild. “We fortunately didn’t have to get into any kind of leverage play because of the inherent standalone strength of Wild with the ad community,” Goldfarb says. “Nor was there any serious horse-trading going on. Where there was some cross-pollination, it was from a much more positive perspective.” Others bought marketing partnerships with Wild; one consumer electronics company will be the channel’s exclusive HD sponsor.

Gary Carr, senior VP and director of national broadcast for media agency TargetCast tcm, says Wild benefited from a strong market and having content clients are comfortable with: “This is what Nat Geo was when it started, this fabulous wildlife footage.”

Wild, which is sold based on distribution in 50 million homes, is only the second new network to get daily Nielsen ratings. Ratings for a network this size can be volatile, but National Geographic says viewership has grown month to month since launch; the channel registered a 0.05 rating among adults 25 to 54 during the first week of June.

National Geographic Channel had a strong upfront in its own right. “It was record-setting on many levels,” Goldfarb says. The network had a new high in volume and captured high-single-digit price increases.

With most big cable network groups reporting gains in the 20% range, Goldfarb says Nat Geo’s growth was “more than double that.” The channel had more than 30 seven-figure deals, including five or six with advertisers that had never been sponsors before. As Goldfarb puts it: “We were very pleased.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.