Upfront: Nat Geo Preps a Baker’s Dozen

National Geographic Channel is striding into the 2011-12 upfront season with a brainy, brawny slate of 13 new series and a recent surge of ratings momentum, all of which should give the network a leg up when it’s time to write business.
Having shuttled the bulk of its animal-themed programming to upstart sibling Nat Geo Wild, NGC’s development slate has taken on a much more scientific bent. Among the new originals in the pipeline are The Indestructibles, a first-person narrative that applies the laws of physics to help explain how each subject escaped certain death, and Rocket Men, an engaging look at a coterie of self-proclaimed “redneck rocket scientists” who rely on their aerospace training and backwoods ingenuity to solve knotty scholarly problems.
Also in the hopper, in what NGC characterizes as its “Adrenaline” pillar, are the investigation series Drugs, Inc., which traces the serpentine dealings of the legit pharmaceuticals market as well as the narco trade, and the somewhat redundantly titled American Knights in the U.S., a look at a former Navy SEAL who is trying to introduce the medieval hastilude to a stateside audience.
All told, NGC this season will roll out 23 original shows, including 10 returning strips. One familiar face that will not be seen on NGC is Cesar Millan. Now in it seventh season, The Dog Whisperer will migrate over to Nat Geo Wild in early 2012.
Millan’s show will be refurbished to jibe with its new eco system. According to Geoff Daniels, senior vp, development and production, Nat Geo Wild, the new-look Dog Whisperer will feature themed episodes like “Tiny Terrors,” which profiles some NFL linemen and the little yappy Chihuahuas who lord it over them as alpha dogs.
“We’re looking to broaden the appeal of the show,” Daniels said. “While Cesar will garner a lot of attention for the network, we also wanted to make sure to re-energize The Dog Whisperer with some celebrity appearances and themes that resonate beyond the core dog-training aspect.”

Among the six new series in production for the year-old Wild are Philly Undercover, which shines a light on the seedy underbelly of the city’s dog-fighting culture, and Bush Cowboy with Matt Wright, a profile of an Aussie conservationist who tracks and relocates dangerous animals with the help of his trusty canine companion.
Since it launched in March 2010, Wild has landed a carriage deal with Cablevision, thereby expanding its reach 10 percent to 53 million subscribers. (Cablevision did not have a carriage deal in place with Wild precursor Fox Reality.)
In its first nine months of operation, Wild averaged 86,000 viewers in prime, a 16 percent increase from Fox Reality’s 2009 deliveries. Since then, the channel has enjoyed a sharp uptick, drawing an average crowd of 115,000 prime-time viewers in January and 121,000 in February.
Meanwhile, the flagship network is bouncing back from a somewhat challenging 2010. NGC last year averaged 421,000 total viewers in prime, down 8 percent from the previous 12-month period. The demos also weathered declines, as adults 25-54 fell off 10 percent and viewers 18-49 dropped 12 percent.
February brought a significant turnaround, as NGC grew its nightly deliveries 19 percent to 482,000 total viewers while adults 25-54 were up 8 percent.
As Nat Geo begins its springtime tour of media agencies, the sales team has a strong wind at its back. “Based on demand, we’re nearly sold out for the next two quarters with Wild,” said Rich Goldfarb, svp, media sales, Fox Cable Networks/National Geographic Channel. “The scatter market is on fire, and as corporate profits continue to increase, we’re seeing marketers investing heavily in their TV spend.
“When the money’s there, you want to increase your market share and stimulate some of that pent-up consumer spending,” Goldfarb added. “And there’s still no better place to put your media dollars than on TV. So we don’t really see an end to this hot scatter market.”
Conservative estimates eyeball NGC’s 2010 net ad sales revenue in the neighborhood of $130 million, up more than 12 percent versus its 2008 haul. With a sub count in the 70 million household range and an average carriage fee of 21 cents a head per month, NGC pulls in approximately $176.4 million in annual affiliate revenue.