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National Geographic Touts Ad Sales, Stuffs Slate With New Shows for Upfront

Mar 3, 2009  •  Post A Comment

In preparing for television’s upfront advertising market, the intrepid folks at National Geographic Channel have discovered a mysterious zone not affected by the recession.
Executives at the channel say first-quarter ad sales are up 11% and that the network is nearly sold out for March. On top of that, the network is planning its biggest programming slate ever, with 11 returning series and 10 new series in the works.
As they presents the network’s plans to ad buyers, Nat Geo execs will be handing out an unusual piece of swag. Instead of the usual baseball caps and umbrellas, the network will be distributing hundreds of kits that will enable buyers to participate in a serious piece of scientific research on the history of the human race.
The kits contain swabs, vials and an envelope designed to collect and submit DNA samples as part of National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project, which is using genetic markers to determine where humans came from.
The team behind the Genographic Project also is putting together a two-hour special for the network called “Where on Earth Did You Come From?” to premiere in September.
In the special, scientists collect DNA samples over the course of a day from people passing through one of the most diverse spots in the world: 30th Avenue in Queens, New York. Examination of the DNA is expected to show how all humans are descended from a group of African ancestors about 60,000 years ago.
The special is being sponsored by IBM, which also is involved in the research on the Genographic Project.
“The Genographic kit is emblematic of how National Geographic Channel is a unique property,” said general manager Steve Schiffman.
He said the network gets access to explorers and scientists working on the National Geographic Society’s hundreds of projects. The projects also cross the desk of Executive VP for Content Steve Burns, creating new ideas that could show up on the 2010 upfront slate.
Rich Goldfarb, senior VP for advertising sales, said National Geographic’s success in the ad market stems from a sixth year of increasing ratings, capped by the network’s highest-rated month ever in January.
The network also is one of the few that skews toward upper-income men in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic.
While that’s the network’s primary target, the network also has a number of shows, including “Fight Science” and “Wild,” that appeal to edgy young men, drawing advertising from the movie studio and video game markets. Its canine-themed programming, led by “The Dog Whisperer,” appeals to women, opening up advertising opportunities in female-skewing categories.
“We have a lot of different packages for advertisers with different demographics,” Mr. Goldfarb said.
The network also works closely with advertisers on sponsorships and entitlements and remains an efficient buy.
“For the price of a 30-second [spot] in the Super Bowl, an advertiser can own on a 52-week basis ‘Explorer,’” Mr. Goldfarb said.
Mr. Burns said many of the network’s new series came from specials that drew high ratings and repeated well, such as “Alaska State Troopers,” “Border Wars” and “Fight Science.”
Another new series is “Rescue Ink,” which Mr. Schiffman describes as “The Sopranos” meets “Dog Town.” The show features a group of motorcycle-riding, tattooed former cops who rescue puppies and kitties.
Other series include “Hooked” and “Hooked: Monster Shark,” in which an ace fisherman and a scientist team to discover new things about the aquatic creatures they catch and release; “Jurassic CSI,” which looks at how dinosaurs lived and died; and “Known Universe,” a guide to the cosmos.
Nat Geo also is creating a new series for master rigger Sean Riley, who starred in “World’s Toughest Fixes” last year. He will again be tackling oversized repair jobs.
Mr. Burns said “Toughest Fixes” may come back, but finding huge emergency repair jobs proved difficult on the network’s schedule.
The network also plans to have a second annual “Expedition Week” in November. Specials that week will look at the Britannic, a twin of the Titanic that also sank; head shrinkers (not the kind with 50-minute sessions); and crocodiles.
Also returning are the quarterly “Great Quests” tentpole events and the “Preserve Our Planet” franchise.

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