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Discovery Puts Planet Earth On Demand

After five years in the making, Discovery Channel’s nature miniseries, Planet Earth, is ready to debut March 25, but in a bid for buzz, the network is jumping the gun nine days early with a sneak preview on its video-on-demand service.

The hour-long episode, Forests, will debut Friday, March 16, on Discovery On Demand. The offering will be accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage and preview content for upcoming episodes.

“Getting it out there early, we’ve found, is a way to create that consumer buzz,” said Discovery senior vice president of affiliate marketing Mike Snyder, adding that he expected their “deep-diving” on-demand support to boost ratings for the series.

Beyond the preview, one-hour episodes of Planet Earth will air Sundays in two- and three-hour blocks from March 25-April 22. Each episode will be supported with on-demand content, including short-form segments of 2-3 minutes, plus the hour-long previously run episodes. On-demand folders will be available until May 3.

“It’s also an opportunity for a distributor to be able to say, ‘See it here first,’” Snyder said.

Distributors carrying Discovery On Demand and Discovery HD Theater include Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Bresnan Communications, Insight Communications, Verizon Communications and several National Cable Television Cooperative members. Comcast is the only operator that offers the network’s HD on-demand channel.

Snyder said the option is available to all distributors, adding, “We’re ready, willing and able to talk with others.”

Discovery currently offers about 75 hours of on-demand content per month from Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel, Discovery Kids, Military Channel and The Science Channel.

Planet Earth -- narrated by actor Sigourney Weaver and co-produced by Discovery and the British Broadcasting Corp. -- is comprised of 11 one-hour episodes on diverse ecosystems, including wildlife footage from forests, mountains, plains oceans, freshwater, deserts and arctic environments, among others.

“It takes an ecosystem, one at a time, and looks at it in an eco-conscious way,” Snyder said. “What I like about it is that it does have that [conservation] message, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it.”

Snyder added that the Planet Earth campaign complements Discovery’s ongoing education partnership with The Nature Conservancy. To that end, the network will air Conservancy public-service announcements during the series, as well as offer private screenings at Conservancy chapters around the country.

A unique feature of the show -- and one aspect Discovery will highlight in its on-demand folder -- is the integration of new technologies used in filming.

For one, the production crew filmed animals and tropical storms using Cineflex Heligimble, an aerial photography system used by police, military and some news organizations.

The series also boasts HD images from space and the deep sea; time-lapse footage to show changing seasons; footage of Aurora Australis, floods and sand storms, among others; cameras that track more than 100 meters up the world’s tallest trees in a single shot; and high-speed cameras that slow down movement up to 40 times in order to capture rare animal predation, such as great white sharks leaping out of the water to prey on seals and crocodiles grabbing wildebeest.

Planet Earth marks a return of the partnership between Discovery and BBC, which teamed up in 2002 to produce ocean-exploration series Blue Planet.

“The difference between five years ago and now is in the way affiliates can maximize their involvement,” Snyder said. To that end, the network created customized cross-channel spots, banner ads and spots to drive HD subscriptions.

Besides VOD, Discovery will also promote the show via broadband-video playerThe Fan on Comcast.net with short-form content, including behind-the-scenes clips.