Herding Viewers’ Passion for Animals

Six months after being tapped as Animal Planet’s general manager, Patrice Andrews is celebrating the Discovery Communications-owned outlet’s 20th anniversary with a renewed focus on showing the best of the animal world. The network will look to serve its target audience of women ages 25- 54 though new original shows, including the Feb. 10 launch of its first late-night show, Animal Nation, starring Black-ish star Anthony Anderson, plus long-running specials including Puppy Bowl XIII, its annual Super Bowl counterprogramming event, premiering Feb. 5. Andrews spoke with programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about a new weekend original programming strategy and the challenges linear cable networks face in a crowded television marketplace. Here are edited highlights.

MCN:How would you define the Animal Planet brand?

Patrice Andrews: Animal Planet was launched 20 years ago and the tagline back then was, “All animals, all the time.” Twenty years later, we say our name says it all. We’re about the welfare and the caring of animals, and the people who are on our air are passionate about animals. We celebrate all things animal.

MCN:Over the past 20 years, more networks have begun to offer animal-themed programming. Do you see that as direct competition for Animal Planet?

PA: It’s absolutely flattering from our perspective, and if it has an adoption message attached to it, all the better because we’re all about that. For me, it’s a wonderful way to showcase animals — we like to think we’re the home for animals, but happy to share that.

MCN:With actors like Anthony Anderson hosting Animal Planet shows, will you look to celebrities to help tie in to the network’s animal themes?

PA: The Anthony Anderson show is a particularly interesting one for us because it’s a talk-variety show. As he says, it’s a little of The Tonight Show meets Wild Kingdom. For us, celebrity is great, but it has to be meaningful: we’re not celebrity for celebrity’s sake. Anthony Anderson is an animal lover and the concept made great sense, but to just have a celebrity on air is not where Animal Planet goes. It really has to come with a purpose and a reason behind their animal love.

MCN:Having said that, what type of shows should we expect to see in 2017?

PA: A lot of what we’re doing revolves around a three-night strategy on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Friday night, we say our shows are fun. That’s where you’ll find Animal Nation. It’s also where you’ll find [Treehouse Masters]. Saturday night is all about heart. That’s where our pets and vets shows are, and we have a great show that just launched called The Guardians, which follows pit bulls and parolees.

Sunday night has traditionally been, for us, out in the wild. We’re trying to use those three nights to organize our brand around them.

MCN:Do you have any concerns about reaching your target audience in what is a very crowded, competitive TV landscape?

PA: It’s a different place now. In the cable universe when we launched, we were the only channel you could watch animals on. There’s a lot of competition right now, but I think the great thing about Animal Planet is we don’t try do be something other than we are. I think we are a safe haven for people to come to — I think they can find us and find a very inviting environment to watch TV. I think the pure sense that we’re about animals makes us stand out from the crowd.

Overall, I think the Animal Planet viewer is someone who is passionate about animals, and I think the uniqueness of that, and the fact that it’s such a niche brand and audience, that it’s actually easy to hook them. They come back to us because they have a real passion for animals. I think the variety of programming between the three nights gives them different ways to find us. If you have anything to do with animals and know what’s going on in the animal world, it’s a wonderful place for people to come.

MCN:Having said that, what do you see as the biggest challenge for networks like Animal Planet in this environment?

PA: I think the biggest thing we have to be able to do is be available anytime and anywhere. We have an app called Animal Planet Go, which means if you can’t find us on television and you’re not around your DVR, or you just want to see what’s going on Animal Planet, you can find us anywhere. We’re still tied to ratings and we’re still tied to day and date, but that opportunity to find us anywhere I think is important to all of us. For Animal Planet, the beauty is animals were already on the Internet and they’re already in the digital space. We are there too, and I think the more people can find us in ways other than relying on a linear platform is going to be really important for us this year.