Sunday, August 9, 2009

Surviving Shark Week: a mixed bag of response

Well, the screams have subsided and the water is once again calm as Discovery Channel's Shark Week comes to a close. Discovery pulled out all the stops this year with their promotional campaigns, using the Internet in particular to target their key markets.

The emphasis was clearly on shark attacks and the fear factor, probably more so than at any time in the 20+ year history of this programming phenomenon. To many, they clearly went over the top with more over-sensationalism and, in some case, fabrication than has been seen ever. And they will probably have substantial ratings numbers to justify their approach unfortunately.

But there has been some important blowback and not just from the diehard shark advocates that you would expect. No, there has been critical reviews from the New York Times, comedian/commentator Stephen Colbert, and others including Advertising Age (an important one because this can represent advertiser sentiment for next season; and advertising pays the bills).

So in the end, Shark Week 2009 could be a mixed bag: high ratings but some strong criticism that can reflect on the Discovery brand. Will there be a change in strategy next year? I suspect not away from the basic fascination/fear factor that the majority of the general public has regarding sharks. But intelligence, conservation, and well-thought out science can still mix with drama and mystery to produce exciting programming for viewers of all ages.

Shark Week certainly does pique interest; Amazon sales of my documentary, Island of the Great White Shark, rose this week as I am sure did many other shark-related DVDs. On another note, on the 19th of this month, there will be a special screening/discussion of Island of the Great White Shark for the California Legislative Assembly - an interesting follow up to Shark Week. There will be more details/press about this event coming soon.

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