'Blue Planet' Aims to Make Big Promo Splash

Discovery Channel's next big programming event, The Blue Planet: Seas of Life, will be awash in near-record affiliate marketing and consumer support.

The network's goals stretch beyond building consumer interest in the eight-hour special about the world's oceans. Discovery also aims to help affiliates tap into the opus to sell cable modems and subscriptions.

A co-production with the British Broadcasting Corp., the first four hours of the primetime documentary miniseries about the oceans and marine life will bow in two parts on Jan. 27 and 28. Its four-hour conclusion is set for May.

"This will be one of our largest-ever marketing campaigns to consumers — in the same category as Raising the Mammoth
and Walking with Dinosaurs," in terms of dollars and variety of media platforms, said Discovery vice president of consumer marketing Susan Campbell.

"We're doing more than we've ever done to leverage programming for our affiliates," said vice president of affiliate marketing Jodi Rubin.

Discovery executives won't disclose the budget for the program or its promotional support, which kicked into high gear on Jan. 21. But series producer Alastair Fothergill has said Blue Planet, in production for five years, is "the most expensive natural-history series ever."

Discovery will run a radio promotion in eight markets — New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Boston; San Jose, Calif.; Baltimore; Chicago; and Seattle — and tie-in with events at aquariums in those cities, Campbell said. The grand prize will be a trip for four to Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

The network will also promote the program through a 10-minute featurette on United Airlines flights, as well as on Discovery.com and at Discovery Channel Stores. It will also target electronic-mail inboxes, offering a Blue Planet
screensaver to aquarium members, Campbell added.

There will be a special Blue Planet
showcase area within Discovery's stores, featuring tie-in signs and BBC-licensed books for children and adults, as well as videos and DVDs, she said.

Except for Blue Planet
posters that Ford Motor Co. will send to its dealerships, the miniseries' major sponsors (which also include Bank of America and IBM Corp.) don't plan any tie-in consumer-marketing support of their own, she said.

On the affiliate side, Rubin said elements include cross-channel Blue Planet-themed cable-modem and cable-acquisition spots, pushed e-mails, online banners and animated flash presentations and the more common print ad slicks and postcards.

The banners and flash presentations say, "Unknown creatures, uncharted depths, unimaginable dramas, until now … To take your experience to new depths, use a cable modem."

Adelphia Communications Corp, Cablevision Systems Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Mediacom Communications Corp. are running the modem spot on their systems, Rubin said. Charter Communications Inc. is leaving it up to system managers, though it's urging them to televise the promo.

Cox's Phoenix system will tag the spots with its own local offer.

Meanwhile, AT&T Broadband, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable have instead opted to tie-in with scores of Discovery retail stores. In those locations, the network's customized modem spot is running on a 10-minute loop, Campbell noted.

For the first time, Discovery is also proffering taggable Spanish-language cross-channel promos, but Rubin said it's too soon to gauge how many affiliates will use them. At the end of January, the network will track operator participation and the downloads of the flash presentations and banners from its affiliate Web site to get a clearer idea of how widely they were used, she added.

Campbell hinted at "other opportunities" to promote the continuation of Blue Planet, now scheduled for May 5 and May 6. It's too soon to divulge any details for competitive reasons, she said.