Discovery Sets Six-Net Simulcast

Mere weeks into his tenure as Discovery Communications’ chief operating officer, Peter Liguori has already made a splash at Silver Spring, devising the first multinetwork series premiere in the programmer’s history.

On March 21, all six networks that boast high-definition feeds (Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel, Investigation Discovery and Planet Green) will play host to Life, the new 11-part natural history epic from the makers of Planet Earth. Also in the swim is Discovery Health Channel, which doesn’t have an HD correlative but enjoys a certain cachet as the precursor to OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.

After episode one, the remaining 10 installments will run on the flagship on consecutive Sundays. Once Life has wrapped April 18, the cycle begins anew on Animal Planet.

In Liguori’s view, the value of the simulcast extends well beyond quintupling the series’ distribution (Discovery reaches just north of 100 million subs; with the other nets, Life will flower in some 534 million U.S. TV homes). “Our biggest assets are our portfolio of strong brands and our distribution platform, which allows us to communicate with a vast audience,” Liguori said. “But this goes beyond setting a ratings goal. With the simulcast premiere, we’re emphasizing to the audience and the ad community that this is something special. And I’m certain that anyone who sees the first episode will come back next week for episode two.”

An eye-popping chronicle of the life instinct as it plays out among all animal species, the series shares more than a few strands of DNA with Planet Earth. The premiere of the joint Discovery-BBC effort scared up 6.07 million viewers on March 25, 2007, and advertisers expect that Life will outstrip that number.

“We believe, based on the success of past Discovery projects, that Life will attract a rich and wide audience,” said Tim Ellis, vp of marketing at Volkswagen, one of the series sponsors. He added that the project offers a unique contextual fit for the carmaker’s “environmentally responsible products.”

Ellis added that the series run jibes nicely with VW’s evolving marketing offensive. “The window is critical for Volkswagen as we continue our PunchDub campaign and then transition into a new brand campaign,” Ellis said. “The Life platform will provide a great opportunity for exposure during that time frame.”

Such is the promise of Life that Discovery has lined up a brace of five core sponsors for the entire series run. As presenting sponsor, Target will command the greatest on-air presence; the retailer will be featured in custom opening and closing executions in each episode. In the run-up to the premiere, Target’s iconic bull’s-eye will appear in co-branded countdown bugs; it’s also the exclusive sponsor of “Capturing the Moment,” a series of behind-the-scenes, precredit vignettes that explain how Life’s cinematographers managed to nail so many compelling shots, under what were often less-than-ideal circumstances.

Per Nielsen, Target in 2009 spent $494 million on measured media (not including online), down 17 percent from $595 million in the previous year.

“Target is generally not a big advertiser for us because they tend to target females,” said Discovery ad sales president Joe Abruzzese. “But this is such a sea-change event, it really goes beyond targeting a specific demo. And Target has always been a very progressive brand.” Abruzzese said that while Discovery will account for the bulk of Life’s GRPs, the buys on the digital nets aren’t just gravy. “Each network stands on its own in terms of guarantees.”
Along with Volkswagen, sponsors receiving tagged tune-ins and custom on-air spots are Geico, Sprint and Discover Card.