On a record-setting roll, thanks to high-concept specials such as the recent “Inside 9/11,” the National Geographic Channel has greenlighted eight new projects.
The upcoming titles include stand-alone ventures (a two-hour big-budget scripted take on the pirate Blackbeard) and multipart limited series (“Biblical Mysteries,” a five-episode follow-up to the upcoming “Science of the Bible”).
The shows continue the channel’s strategy of creating high-profile event specials to introduce viewers to the 4-year-old network.
“The specials tend to have a nice appeal to a broader audience, and we put a lot of effort into them,” said Laureen Ong, president of the network. “During the last year and a half, what you’re seeing are the benefits of a very carefully orchestrated strategy. According to our research, every one of our specials has brought us a new set of people that have never checked us out before.”
The network, co-owned by Fox Cable Networks and National Geographic Television & Film, broke a 1 household rating for the first time last October with the special “Inside the Secret Service,” according to Nielsen Media Research. Two months later the record was broken again by “Unlocking Da Vinci’s Code,” which garnered a 1.6. Last week the channel broke a 2.0 and a 3.0 for the first time with “Inside 9/11,” which garnered a 2.5 for part one and a 3.6 for part two.
“For a network like National Geographic that’s on a lot of digital tiers, which are harder for viewers to find, these are pretty impressive numbers,” said Brad Adgate, senior analyst for Horizon Media.
The channel’s distribution is on the increase, up 14 percent since last year, to 54 million homes. Though the ratings spikes are not for recurring titles, the attention has translated into increased overall viewership for the network. The network has enjoyed consecutive ratings growth in seven of the last eight quarters. The channel’s most recent quarter is up 60 percent among total viewers, 76 percent among 18 to 49 compared with last year.
“We’re getting into more and more people’s consideration sets, those 10 to 14 channels you regularly watch,” said John Ford, executive VP of programming at the network. “For an emerging network like ours, we still have a lot of consideration sets to get into. When we get a big special like ‘Inside 9/11’ we get a lot of sampling from people who don’t normally watch us.”
All of the new programming will be shot in high definition in preparation for the launch of National Geographic Channel’s HD spinoff coming in January. The channel has greenlighted:
The channel has also ordered a second season of the series “The Dog Whisperer” and will bump the series from a daytime half-hour to a prime-time one-hour show.
National Geographic Channel’s recent success prompted Liberty Media Chairman John Malone to declare last June he would like to buy the channel, and he reportedly spoke to News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch about the prospect. But National Geographic would have to agree to any sale. “Nothing came of that,” said Ms. Ong, “and, no, we’re not for sale.”