National Geographic has made its first upfront programming pitch as part of The Walt Disney Co., with a slate of mostly unscripted, fact-based programs that include the returning Brain Games, wildlife-focused special Alaska Live and competition series Race to the Center of the Earth. National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe spoke to Multichannel News prior to the May 14 Disney Upfront Experience event to discuss the network’s positioning under its new ownership — Disney acquired Nat Geo and Nat Geo Wild as part of its $71.3 billion purchase of certain 21st Century Fox programming assets — and its programming strategy balancing scripted and unscripted content.
MCN:Nat Geo’s new slate is heavy on unscripted content. Does this mark a shift away from scripted fare?
Courteney Monroe: There’s no shift for us … what we announced is very much a continuation of the strategy that we embarked on a couple of years ago, which is being the destination for premium factual television. We have one big scripted show this year (Genius: Aretha), which we are super-excited about. I think the balance of scripted and unscripted is what it’s always been, but I think this is the most entertaining upfront slate that we’ve launched to date. Premium and smart is not mutually exclusive with entertaining, so I’m excited about the shows and talent we’re working with. It reflects very much a continuation of the mission we set a couple of years ago.
MCN:Are you concerned about the increase in competition both on linear and streaming platforms within the factual/natural history genre?
CM: We have long been a leader in the space, and we have the benefit of this incredibly strong, iconic brand, which serves as curator of sorts. When it comes to natural history specifically, the more people that are shedding light on wildlife and natural history, the better it is in regard to the ultimate, underlying mission. Nobody does it like us when it comes to being visually spectacular, so the more the merrier … I’m focused on running our race, and I feel really good about what we have.
MCN:How has National Geographic’s transition under Disney ownership affected the network’s brand?
CM: [The transition] has been really great. I feel so lucky for all of us at National Geographic to be part of Disney. The brands are so well-aligned and they very snugly fit. There’s no better company at brand stewardship than Disney and they’ve welcomed us with open arms. I honestly believe that being part of Disney will turbocharge our brand and business in ways that have never been possible before. I don’t just mean the business segment that I run in terms of television and content, but even areas of the business that I don’t oversee like the travel business, our consumer products business, and our kids business. With those now housed within Disney, we have a real potential to grow.
MCN:Do you expect any major changes with regards to programming and content development?
CM: First and foremost, they are very supportive of the premium strategy that we’re pursuing, so we’ll see a continuation of that and the focus on our linear channel business. We’re going to also have the opportunity to scale the National Geographic content brand on Disney+ and potentially on Hulu, so that’s really exciting to introduce the brand to new audiences and to be a part of what is Disney’s biggest corporate strategic priority. That’s what I mean by the opportunity to turbocharge our business; we’re going to be able to make content that will be seen across multiple platforms.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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