How Shark Week Won Us Back

Author: James Bischoff on 07/06/2015

It wasn’t all that long ago when Shark Week was actually in contention to be my ‘Favorite Week of the Year.’ I felt like everyone I knew was watching the same shows that week and that more importantly we all loved and learned from them. Slow motion shark attacks and uh well, more slow motion shark attacks aside, there is something viscerally exciting about an entire week dedicated to a real life man-eating creature from the deep. It’s what some of the best movies are made of. After all, nothing is more terrifying than Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis in Jaws when he tells you “the thing about a shark, he's got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye.”

But then something happened; Shark Week’s mission to preserve sharks and educate us all worked. The general public now knows infinitely more than it once did about sharks and we’ve seen their populations bounce back. A side effect of sharing this transfer of knowledge is that what was once a bottomless bucket of cool and exciting facts, figures, and videos seems to now be empty. In my opinion, it really happened last year (2014). Instead of scientific programming viewers were suckered into watching ‘documentaries’ which were quickly revealed to be fictitious, older programming repackaged with nothing more than new camera angles and a new trend, the recap show. People not only noticed, the spoke up. Loudly. They were not happy.
When Shark Week started in 1988 the Internet was in its infancy and social media was still 15 years away. The way Discovery has adopted and adapted to social media needs to be recognized and celebrated. They created a feeding frenzy online (sorry…) with hype campaigns integrated into every social outlet and have supported live social sharing and engagement during their programming. It goes without saying that #SharkWeek will be trending every night for a week. And while those things are good, it is not what makes their social media great. They hit a homerun with the most important and often most overlooked part of social media, they listened.
There are still too many companies, large and small alike, that want to use social media to talk: to push products, to hard sell, and to quite frankly annoy. It’s reassuring knowing that Discovery not only heard your complaints (via sentiment analysis, social monitoring, and engagement) but used that data to act and adjust quickly. It’s impossible for me to sit here and tell you what the exact financial fallout from a second year of subpar programming coupled with countless lost Shark Week advocates would have done to their brand and bottom line, but I can safely say that the loss would be great and would have resulted in a new group of high-level executives in charge.
Discovery not only tweaked their approach this year, they redefined it. "We've created the ultimate destination online and through our social platforms with a wide array of content," said Paul Pastor, Executive VP of Network Strategy, Revenue and Operations. "Shark Week online is more robust and social than previous years, with information to engage fans while experts weigh in and provide key information and insight."
In going back to their roots and a proven formula their programs this year are “powered by Sharkopedia” with facts linking back to digital Shark Week experiences. You may also notice their ‘Finbassadors,’ which are scientists, divers, filmmakers, photographers, artists and advocates that will temporarily manage their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and Meerkat accounts to engage viewers.
Although Shark Week is only 1 day into their 7 day hijacking of all other late night programs for the 27th year in a row, they have proven to me that they have what it takes to remain TV’s longest running pop-culture phenomenon for years to come. Discovery and Shark Week have shown that they are not only capable of talking and teaching, but also of listening and learning.