National Geographic had big names and bigger events to toss around at its Upfront presentation at NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, including a six-part documentary series featuring Katie Couric, inspired by her personal journey making National Geographic documentary Gender Revolution. National Geographic, Shawn Carter and The Weinstein Company will partner on a new global documentary series, RACE (wt), a stark look into systemic injustices in America, and scripted anthology seriesGenius, which tells the untold stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, got the green light for season 2. Also on the way: 6-part global event series The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman.
New scripted development projects include (working titles) The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, The Hot Zone, recounting the true story of the Ebola virus, and a scripted series revealing how Nat Geo became a network. “This scripted development slate … proves that entertaining and smart are not mutually exclusive,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Global Networks. “We are working with the best storytellers in the world to tell these very human stories that we hope will create global conversation and change the way viewers look at the world around them.”
Nat Geo WILD, which just saw The Incredible Dr. Pol have the most-watched season in network history, “continues to raise the bar when it comes to wildlife programming thanks to a clear understanding of its audience, steadfast commitment to its identity and innovative storytelling methods to deliver premium family-friendly content,” said Monroe. “Nat Geo WILD is vital to the National Geographic portfolio.” Coming up on WILD: a live broadcast from the Maasai Mara in Safari Live: Migration; the return of hit global miniseries event Savage Kingdom II: Uprising;, and SharkFest and Big Cat Week Lineups. Also coming up are new Series When Nature Calls and Pikes Peak Patrol. And the return, of course, of Dr. Pol.
A new digital venture, The National Geographic Further Community, was announced, aimed at advancing the brand’s role in science and exploration by partnering with a new cast of influencers to create original stories around travel, culture, science, innovation and wildlife. By utilizing advanced audience and emotional insights and targeting, the new digital network aims to provide advertisers with a new platform to reach an audience obsessed with social media, travel, science and entertainment, who prioritize high-quality life experiences.
At its Upfront, Freeform presented a programming lineup powered by premium original content and Disney properties including Marvel, ABC Studios and Disney theme parks. The net also emphasized its focus on digital efforts, and will continue its strategy of rolling out content on all Freeform platforms at launch, with some series available all at once. “Freeform is redefining what it means to be a television network for today’s consumer,” said Tom Ascheim, president of the Millennial-focused net.
Upcoming new series include mermaid drama Siren, premiering this summer; comedy Alone Together, focused on platonic best friends, as well as superpower drama Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, launching in early 2018. The net debuted characters for upcoming live-action comedy series Marvel’s New Warriors, and offered a trailer for drama The Bold Type, arriving Tuesday, July 11 at 9p.
The net’s first fan festival, “Freeform’s Summer Fling,” will debut in summer 2018 with performances, panels and meet-and-greets curated by influencers. And Freeform is partnering with People to develop multiple scripted, original movies based on stories from the pop culture entertainment magazine.
In an expansion of its “25 Days of Christmas” content, Freeform will present holiday special Decorating Disney, detailing the transformation of Disney destinations into winter wonderlands, and original movies Angry Angel (wt) and Life-Size 2, with Tyra Banksreprising her role as a doll who comes to life.
Sony’s Crackle made a slew of new announcements at its upfront event, held at Sony Square NYC in Manhattan. In programming news, the company announced that it has greenlit a number of new titles. Those include two series executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson: The Oath, a scripted drama focused on gang subculture, and RPM (still a working title), a drama series about a crime syndicate’s getaway driver. The company also renewed existing shows Snatch, StartUp, and SuperMansion for new seasons. Other new greenlights include comedy series Accident Park, drama shows The Row and Tribes, techno-thriller film In the Cloud, and weekly talk series Crackle Spotlight: This Week On, in which Smosh’s Ian Hecox will highlight Crackle’s new programming. Unmentioned was the fact that Crackle recently lost its most popular show, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, to Netflix. (Though oddly enough, Seinfeld did briefly pop up in Crackle’s new sizzle reel.) Crackle also announced deals with Mashable and Fusion Media Group’s A.V. Club to produce video content based on its programming.
Crackle also took time to showcase new research, commissioned from the brand-oriented consultancy Miner & Co. Studio. (“Demographics are good, but psychographics are better,” said Crackle EVP and GM Eric Berger. “Attitudes are gender blind, and behaviors can be age blind.”) The study, which was in the field between March and April, reached 1,500 gamers and streamers living in the U.S. Among other results, the study found that 9 in ten game console users prefer streaming to traditional TV. 9 in 10 respondents said they were open to watching ads in exchange for free content, and 8 in 10 said they prefer streaming ads to traditional TV ads. (All good numbers for Crackle, naturally.) Crackle’s message was clear: It’s going after gamers, big-time. And it’s using Sony’s existing tech infrastructure – including PlayStation consoles and PlayStation VR headsets – to do so.
The question is, how can Crackle make sure that it turns gamers into Crackle viewers? “Number one is the UX,” said Rene Santaella, Senior Vice President, Global Ad Strategy & Operations, Sony Pictures Television Networks, in a post-presentation conversation with Cynopsis Digital. “We have an opportunity where we can create a Crackle UX experience that fits someone holding a dual shock controller – that takes advantage of product features built on this platform. And there’s an opportunity to do programming that really keeps this connected entertainment enthusiast in mind. And that becomes a lens for which Crackle originals we end up greenlighting, and helps us programs the channels. It becomes a filter for us. We’re thinking about an entertainment consumer who likes gaming, who likes streaming, and who loves their console.”