‘Shark Week’ at 25: Hooking social media

As the 25th annual 'Shark Week' kicks off this Sunday, realscreen talks to Discovery Channel about its plans to launch an array of co-viewing and social media initiatives, in a bid to engage everyone from passive viewers to die-hard fans.
August 10, 2012

As fans of Discovery Channel’s annual ‘Shark Week’ programming put the finishing touches on their shark fin hats and fine-tune the ingredients in their Sharktini cocktails, the network’s execs have concocted a few extra ways to help make their ‘Shark Week’ parties a little more festive.

Although ‘Shark Week’ is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it wasn’t until two years ago that the American cable network began galvanizing social media buzz around the strand, which attracted more than 26 million viewers in 2011 and 30.8 million in 2010 – its highest to date.

“We were more the beneficiaries of social media than we were necessarily programming it,” Miguel Monteverde, VP of digital at Discovery Channel, tells realscreen. “This is rare but there’s a cool factor to ‘Shark Week.’ People were bragging about watching ‘Shark Week.’ As they were posting in their status that they were watching ‘Shark Week,’ it became apparent that there’s a cache.”

This year, Monteverde and Discovery’s social media outreach team will attempt to engage fans beyond Facebook postings when the week-long homage to the predatory fish begins on August 12. The idea is to build on previous initiatives – a Facebook photo sharing app called Photo Frenzy and the co-viewing app Shark Week Live – with an array of initiatives that appeal to the most passive and rabid fans and everyone in between.

While recent ‘Shark Week’ hosts have been celebrities such as talk show host Craig Ferguson and actor Andy Samberg, this year’s host is from closer to home: Philip DeFranco, star of The Philip DeFranco Show, a YouTube series produced by Revision3, an online video company acquired by Discovery last May.

Every night DeFranco will host the Shark Week Chompdown, a nightly vote in which Facebook and Twitter users will choose one of two items that a mechanical megalodon, an extinct shark species featured in the program Sharkzilla, will crush in its massive jaws.

A curated Twitter feed will run across the top of the screen during the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. time slots to feature the best tweets by fans using the #SharkWeek hashtag. Though Discovery has used Twitter tickers during Deadliest Catch to encourage live tweeting, the ‘Shark Week’ Twitter Frenzy marks the first time the network has extended the effort across 10 hours of programming.

Viewers that watch with their iPad by their side can tune in at 9 p.m. and use Discovery Channel’s Shark Week Plus app to view behind-the-scenes commentary, footage and photos synced to the broadcasts of programs Sharkzilla, How Jaws Changed the World, Shark Fight and Great White Highway.

At 10 p.m., the network is running ‘Shark Week Bingo,’ an online and mobile app game that tapes into the ‘Shark Week’ fans tendency to brag about how much ‘Shark Week’ programming they’re consuming. Each participating viewer will get a randomly generated bingo card with tiles made up of scenes from a show. As the program progresses, the scenes on the card appear and are broadcast on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, Discovery teamed up with the Georgia Aquarium’s Ocean Voyager exhibit and Ustream to live stream the action inside its shark tank via a Shark Cam affixed with a 360-degree camera lens.

To measure the success of these initiatives, Montevverde will gauge the number of participants, the number of web visits, Tweets and Facebook postings. Ultimately, the goal is to drive up the strand’s ratings.

“We’ve got this primary audience and they don’t just want to watch, they want to engage,” he says. “We’re hoping the audience will feel as though they’ve not just liked a clip or passively engaged, but that they are part of the experience, and that has informed what we’ve decided to do this year.”

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.