Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

A giant leap for broadcasting

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast November 17, 2016

Where Nat Geo has boldy gone, others will follow, says Kate Bulkley

Getting viewers to notice content has never been harder, and many big players are starting to look beyond big live shows and the serialised binge-fest model to something I like to call ‘the simulcast’.

That’s content that works in a multiplatform world, is preferably ‘mixed-media’, and which is promoted bigger and louder than ever.

National Geographic has created a tentpole event around a TV show that resonates in all kinds of places. The six-part Mars is a mixed-genre series and is Nat Geo’s biggest content investment to date.

The series, which launched on 13 November, combines scripted drama from film-maker Ron Howard and Brian Grazer with VFX and documentary sequences. It is set in 2033 and follows the fortunes of the first crewed mission to the red planet.

Given that Mars is ‘cool’ again (thank you, Matt Damon), the show is both timely and interesting for millions of sci-fi fans and documentary watchers. And as it’s got science in it, it’s educational, too.

But without a massive push behind it, Mars would likely be lost, pushed out by other TV programmes made by more popular channels located higher up the EPG. “The media landscape has never been more fragmented, more cluttered or more competitive – and there is really no way to break through without being exceptional,” says National Geographic Global Networks chief executive Courteney Monroe.

The cross-platform, company-wide approach included the show’s launch in virtually every market around the world ‘day and date’, as well as a cover story in the famous yellow-bordered National Geographic magazine.

Additional activity includes: two books; a VR experience in New York; an exhibition at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London; the launch of educational materials for STEM curricula; a tour of National Geographic expert speakers; coverage on social media and the Nat Geo website; and a six-part online prequel series called, unsurprisingly, Before Mars.

In the UK, the simulcast strategy gave the Nat Geo channel an audience six times higher than its 9pm slot average and the simulcast across Nat Geo, Fox and Sky Atlantic channels together gave Mars 249,000 viewers on the night (including the 11pm repeat), beating other pay factual channels including Discovery and Crime & Investigation.

But perhaps more important is the role it played in repositioning and unifying the National Geographic brand across its platforms, and with its partner, 21st Century Fox.

Nat Geo isn’t the only group to think about mixed media. This week, Fremantle Media announced Lost In Time, a studio-based entertainment format launching on Discovery-owned TV Norge next year that has real people competing against each other in virtual worlds, as well as an app that will allow viewers to play against the TV contestants using a smart phone.

If you want to make a splash with modern audiences, it’s no good making a half-hearted effort. You’ve got to take a running jump at it – maybe all the way to the fourth rock from the sun.

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