01 Jul 2016


Every year Discovery Channel delivers arguably the most highly anticipated week of the year: Shark Week. People gather in front of their TVs to watch the year’s new footage and findings about the creatures that span oceans and rivers. Not many television events draw this much attention without the promise of some sort of competition, like the SuperBowl or the Miss America pageant. On top of that, Shark Week produces not just one night of programming, but a whole week’s worth. The success of this huge TV event leaves us asking the question: how do they keep audiences interested year after year?

As a marketer, I’ve got my eye on the marketing strategies that help keep Shark Week afloat in 2016.

It’s all about the digital

I wasn’t around for the inaugural Shark Week, but I can assume Discovery’s marketing strategy looked much different than it does today. The key to continued success is adapting promotions to the latest available digital features. Discovery has a website specially designed for Shark Week, and let me tell you it is packed with content. Let’s look at the most innovative and effective.

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  1. Media Player – The first feature I noticed was the media player smack in the middle of the screen. I assumed they’d have short teaser clips playing to encourage you to watch the live show, but instead each clip is a full episode that aired earlier in the week. Imagine that! Shark Week has such a following that they are secure in posting full-length content for free online without the fear of losing live viewers. They even were able to make money from selling advertising within the online videos. I think this is such a key to filling this event up with content: it’s re-purposing the TV programming and packaging it as web content.
  2. Sidebar feeds – The sidebar of the home page is not wasted space, it features three feeds; Shark Week fin-atics, featuring photos from fans; Fins-tagram, which scrolls through Shark Week’s Instagram posts; and Share Your Shark Puppy, which is just pictures of puppies dressed like sharks with the hashtag #SharkNAww. These feeds get the public involved across platforms.
  3. Virtual RealityHere is where the 2016 strategy kicks it up a notch. Through their website you can get 360 degree views of Shark Week footage, including a boat ride with the scientists, a cage dive into the deep and, yes, even a room full of Shark Puppies. This new feature through Discovery’s website is another way to engage viewers in different ways using the same material.
  4. Sharkopedia – I think this final key piece of the website is a PR stunt in disguise. Despite the huge popularity of Shark Week, there has been some criticism about the sensationalism of the shows. Sharkopedia presents some of this information from a more scientific point of view, which could increase the credibility of Shark Week’s findings. It’s also a great resource for those who want to learn more.

Social Media Frenzy

These days, where there is a website, social media is not far behind. Shark Week is using a cross-platform strategy that allows viewers to further interact with the content.

  1. Facebook – As with Virtual Reality, Shark Week is taking advantage of some of 2016’s newest technologies on Facebook. Most notably, they’re using the Facebook Live feature, where shark specialists are streamed live on Facebook to answer questions viewers ask. They’re also using Facebook Live to stream shark-related activities at the National Aquarium here in Baltimore. Think about it: Shark Week fans can be watching the programming while they are also watching live content on Facebook. That’s what I call engagement.
  2. Twitter – Shark Week uses Twitter similarly to any other brand. Most tweets are images or GIFs pulled from recent episodes. They also tweet short facts to accompany episodes airing at the time. But what sets their Twitter content apart from other media platforms is the amount of branded content from their sponsors. Many of the messages tweeted during the down time (when new episodes aren’t airing) are actually promotions for the same brands you see in the commercials on Discovery this week.
  3. Instagram – This year, Instagram became a social media monster. So it only makes sense that Shark Week would capitalize on its popularity. Their Instagram feed features posts from the marine scientists you can see on the show, as well as video clips from episodes.
  4. What’s missing: Snapchat – With all of the features on Snapchat, like filters and stories, Shark Week was mysteriously missing. During the evening episodes, a bubble would come up in the corner of your TV screen telling you to follow Shark Week’s Snapchat account for more information, but that is trusting the user to take the action. If they had created shark-related filters or posted articles, users could have stumbled upon these promotions and accessed them with little effort. Which, let’s face it, is the goal social media is striving for these days.

With Shark Week coming to an end, this whole online marketing strategy will be put to rest until next year. Because they had saturated online content to pair with the TV programming, the viewers were able to reinforce their discoveries from this season with self-guided exploration on the Shark Week website and social media accounts. Now the real question is… What will they roll out in 2017?



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