Each year at NewFronts, there are a few companies that seem to have deluded themselves into believing they are (or will ever be) a player in the digital space. And on the other end of the spectrum, there's National Geographic, which is a legitimate digital powerhouse and the biggest noncelebrity brand on Instagram.
At its NewFronts event this morning, held at New York's Morgan Library and Museum, National Geographic announced plans to leverage that social dominance with several new digital initiatives, including 10 digital series, its first Instagram video series and a virtual reality platform.
This is National Geographic's first NewFronts since the company expanded its joint venture with 21st Century Fox last November, and brought all its platforms together. Last year, the company's social footprint had 1.6 billion engagements, said Claudia Malley, chief marketing and brand officer, National Geographic Partners.
While those engagement stats often seem nebulous, here's something concrete: With more than 49 million followers on Instagram, National Geographic is the No. 1 media brand on the platform, and the No. 13 brand overall, trailing only celebrities like Beyoncé, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian. "We get super-excited by the potential of social and the ability it gives us to connect with consumers and bring them along for the journey," said Malley.
"Now that Instagram is tracking views, it's crazy. We have 15-second video clips getting 3 million views," said Malley. That prompted the company to launch its first Instagram video series, MoviNG Pictures, where photographers on assignment will share their experiences. "You'll travel the world with our photographers and have an intimate experience with them," said Malley of the weekly series, which will launch during the National Parks' centennial this August.
National Geographic also announced 10 digital short-form series, focused on the company's main areas of expertise: travel, adventure and science. That slate is highlighted by Before Mars, a prequel to Mars, the six-part hybrid miniseries—part scripted, part documentary—executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and airing on National Geographic Channel in November.
Before Mars is a six-part series, set in present day, with a storyline that ties into the November series. "If you're going to invest in the world's best storytellers, let's be sure we're really coordinated across everywhere," said Malley of the multiplatform approach. "It takes six months to literally get to Mars, so we're beginning the digital and social countdown to Mars at the NewFronts."
The new slate includes Nat Geo Wild's first digital series, Wild_Life with Bertie Gregory, in which the wildlife filmmaker searches for coastal rain wolves in the Pacific Northwest.
- Get Out: A Guide to Adventure: tips from adventure experts on navigating the outdoors.
- InTime: Using hyper-lapse technology to look at travel destinations around the world.
- Invisible: A frame-by-frame breakdown of what causes crying, laughing and other occurrences.
- NGenius: National Geographic's version of an explainer video.
- NG Gold: Highlighting incredible moments like a shark in an underwater volcano.
- The Real (City): Tips from locals in exotic cities.
The pieces will average 90 seconds to three minutes, with different slices of content appearing on various social channels.
The company is also making a big VR play by readying a virtual reality studio, NG VR Studio. "There's a lot of folks launching VR, but what makes National Geographic VR different is that this is going to be in the hands of the folks in the field. So we'll be able to put our global community literally in the field with our explorers and scientists and storytellers," said Malley. "They'll be on expedition with us, in King Tut's tomb, or underwater or looking into a volcano."
National Geographic experimented with four Facebook VR videos in the last two months. "Those have garnered over 30 million views, so we're pretty optimistic about the impact," said Malley of the new platform, which will launch at the end of 2016 or early next year.
The company will also harness its robust social presence with The Moment, a social initiative in which National Geographic photographers and social ambassadors will photograph the same subject, to help drive awareness via social and digital platforms like Snapchat Discovery, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Live.
Today's NewFronts announcements made good on the plans discussed at National Geographic Channel's upfront press event in March. Toby Byrne, president of ad sales at Fox Networks Group, said then that "our commitment to the new premium vision of the National Geographic Channel goes way beyond global television."