Discovery Baits Shark Week Birthday with VOD

The 20th anniversary of Shark Week is almost two weeks away, but Discovery Channel is already chumming up the video-on-demand waters with fresh content.

As it did last year, the network will pre-empt the official week -- July 29-Aug. 4 -- by nine days with “Shark Bites On Demand.” Available Friday, July 20, the spate of offerings includes a full new episode, Deadly Stripes: Tiger Sharks; a director’s sneak preview of Perfect Predators; a selection of classic Shark Week titles; and assorted long and short companion pieces.

“It has proven very effective for us in terms of driving tune-in to the linear programming,” Discovery Communications senior vice president of affiliate marketing Michael Snyder said. “The networks are very happy to do this because they do see an increase in ratings related to what the distributors are doing even though that marketing might be in the broadband or on-demand or HD space.”

Last year, Discovery prepped Shark Week with its first early VOD premiere, Shark Rebellion. The tactic was used again this past spring to launch high-ranking nature series Planet Earth, which has since netted more than 2 million on-demand views, according to the network.

Snyder said Discovery would continue offering programs during Shark Week on Discovery On Demand and Discovery HD Theater the day after airing on the linear channel. Among those programs are eight new shark shows, debuting one per night in the 9 p.m. slot.

In addition, Aug. 4 and 5 on Discovery HD Theater will be dedicated to “Shark Weekend,” featuring three of the new shows each night.

Also during the official week, the network will air for the first time ever a total-day schedule -- 9 a.m.-3 a.m., entirely devoted to shark programming, including a “Viewer’s Choice” segment each day at 8 p.m.

In marketing its annual fish frenzy this year, Discovery took a slightly different tack with affiliates.

“Although we have made linear tune-in spots available for customization and provided those to affiliates -- and many of them have asked for those, the vast majority -- what we focus almost all of our efforts on creatively and in terms of discussions with affiliates is on-demand, HD and broadband,” Snyder said, “which really means driving their broadband service and their digital-cable product.”

To that end, Discovery designed custom on-demand and HD spots for Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, among others.

“In the case of one distributor, we may have done something specifically for driving on-demand and HD, and other cases, it’s only one of those things,” Snyder said. “In the case of one distributor that’s doing HD on-demand we even did a shark week HD on-demand spot. That was for Comcast.”

On the broadband end, Discovery provided custom microsites with downloadable Shark Week screen-savers, wallpaper, instant-messenger icons and a widget enabling a Shark Week countdown and factoids, as well as an interactive game where players gain access to special 20th-anniversary video shorts by answering shark trivia questions.

Affiliates are given the option of linking their sites to the Discovery microsite or simply outfitting their own sites with Shark Week materials.

Some content has also gone out to mobile carriers, including Shark Week episodes from original mobile series Need to Know on the Go, What Are the Odds and FYI. In addition, Classic Shark Bites offers a compilation of greatest hits from the last 20 years of Shark Week and Favorite Fins pulls together shark-related content from various Discovery Channel shows, including Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters.

Another new component of this year’s shark fest: Shark Week will have a presence at 32 zoos and aquariums in different markets via Discovery premiums, signs and screener episodes. In some locations, local operators joined the effort, such as Comcast co-branding materials in the Philadelphia market at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J.

Discovery is also collaborating with cable affiliates and local ad sponsors to offer a “Shark Week Adventure” sweepstakes with a grand-prize trip for two to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean.