Shark Week, which launched its 28th consecutive season on July 5, remains a ratings juggernaut as Discovery Channel keeps audiences engaged by piling on digital media.
The marketing ramp-up to this year's event began three months ago with Discovery's cellphone-friendly "Wonderful Week" promo video featuring Billy Idol's fierce "It's Jawsome!"
In addition to social media—@sharkweek has 256,000 followers on Twitter and 1.547 million likes on Facebook—Discovery embedded a Live Reef Shark Cam on SharkWeek.com, with a feed from the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Its partners, including Cold Stone Creamery and Oceana, constantly tweet, and Dunkin' Donuts has taken it one step further with its "Take a Bite, Take a Pic" promotion.
And this year the network has added "Findependence"—players collect pieces of a broken Shark of Liberty to recreate it and win—to its Hungry Shark Evolution game, a free phone app.
Last year all of Discovery Channel's marketing efforts paid off with a cume audience of more than 42 million tuned into the network during Shark Week, according to Nielson—this is for a show that began in 1988.
Like Discovery and Shark Week, TV networks are taking advantage of social media and mobile to keep their audiences thriving and coming back for more of their long-running programming. AMC's "The Walking Dead," now in its fifth season, garnered the highest average Twitter TV audience of 4.3 million for the 2014-15 season, according to Nielson Social. Season 19 of "The Bachelor" on ABC came in second with nearly 3.5 million, followed by the fifth season of "Game of Thrones" on HBO with just under 2.9 million.
" 'The Walking Dead' started as a hit, but because people took to the Internet and blogs, people began binge-watching it and it became a phenomenon," says Billie Gold, VP-director of programming research at Dentsu Aegis Network's Carat. "People became so engaged they chatted about it after the show was over, so AMC started 'Talking Dead.' "
AMC is well-tuned to multiplatform marketing for "The Walking Dead," through viral marketing and social media as well as its Walking Dead Chop Shop app, created in partnership with Hyundai, where fans create zombie survival machines. With @walkingdead_AMC tweeting to its 3.56 million followers 67,700 times, it's no wonder the season finale was watched by 15.8 million people.
Even an older-skewing show, such as ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," which just finished its 20th season, is effective in using mobile and social media. "It puts tweets and hashtags up during the show and gets viewers to do things online," Ms. Gold says.
Comedy Central, which partnered with SnapChat earlier this year, designed its app with the smartphone in mind. "We make a lot of our content available on a mobile phone because our fans live on their phones," says Steven Grimes, the network's senior VP-multiplatform programming and strategy. "If you have five minutes standing in line at the grocery store, you can watch a five-minute stream on your phone, on-demand content or clips."
Although the app was conceived for the fan on the go, "we didn't imagine it being used at home because the TV is being used by someone else," Mr. Grimes says. Then there is the two-screen approach—watching a show on TV and discussing it with pals on the phone.
The network's long-running shows "The Daily Show" and "South Park" are super popular among mobile users. "Any number of people will take what Jon Stewart has done, add their own comment and share it using their mobile devices," Mr. Grimes says. "With Jon leaving in August, we are streaming 16 years worth of episodes.
Meanwhile, "South Park" will begins its 19th season this fall. "It doesn't matter whether it's on Facebook, Twitter or our app, it's one of our most popular shows," Mr. Grimes says.
Before each new episodes, "South Park," which has 1.72 million Twitter followers and 46 million on Facebook, runs the previous week's episode with commentary by "the folks" at the South Park studio on social platforms. "It's a very powerful force on social media," he says.
Wednesday: The Future of Mobile May Not Look Like Apps
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