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Discovery to Continue ‘Atlas’ Project

Dec 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

“Atlas” didn’t exactly chart new ratings territory for Discovery Networks, but the company vowed this week to continue moving forward with its ambitious high-definition documentary production.
“Our plans have not changed. We’re still going to do 30 episodes over five years,” said Juliet Farrell, manager of Discovery publicity. “We’ve received glowing feedback from HD viewers.”
The first four episodes of “Atlas” averaged about 1.2 million viewers during their October premieres, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s slightly above Discovery’s Sunday night time-period average, but far below the average audience for previous Sunday night special-event programming such as “Last Day of Pompeii” (4.6 million), “Building the Great Pyramid” (2.7 million) and “Titanic” (2.2 million).
Such modest ratings for an expensive and heavily promoted production would typically result in a hasty retreat from the project. But “Atlas” is the brainchild of Discovery Communications founder and Chairman John Hendrick and the company considers it a branding initiative with potential for gaining viewership through several distribution outlets.
“Atlas” episodes are released on hi-def DVDs, made available for download through Amazon and iTunes, and have broadband and video-on-demand components. Sales figures, however, are not available.
Also, with “Atlas,” there’s the added wrinkle that Discovery HD Theater, which simulcast the premieres, is not rated by Nielsen.
Given its lavish visuals, viewers with an HD cable or satellite service likely watched “Atlas” on HD Theater instead of the rated Discovery Channel. Though there’s no way to tell how many more viewers the HD Theater airings contributed to the total audience, the figure is almost certainly a much smaller number than the main broadcast total, due to the limited penetration of HD services. (HD Theater is available in about 5.5 million homes compared with 90 million for Discovery Channel.)
Discovery is allocating $65 million to the “Atlas” project, with each two-hour episode produced in HD and profiling a different country. The channel plans to air an “Atlas” marathon on New Year’s Day.
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s High Definition newsletter, a weekly source of breaking HD news, articles and interviews written by Senior Reporter James Hibberd.

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