Discovery Channel is using "Shark Week," the annual ratings-and-publicity bonanza that begins again on Sunday, to introduce viewers to updated branding.
The cable channel, known for its nonfiction documentaries as well as reality series like "MythBusters" and "Deadliest Catch," wants to become more character-driven and less identified with documentaries and disembodied voiceovers, executives said. The approach has been successful for networks such as A&E, which has made the Robertson family followed by "Duck Dynasty" into something close to a household name.
The network has found that its big event specials like "Shark Week," meanwhile, attract a very different audience than those who watch its series on a day-to-day basis. "We want to be in the must-watch world," said Lara Richardson, senior VP of marketing, who joined last year.
Discovery is altering its on-screen logo by dropping the "Discovery" and instead using a globe with the letter "D." The image of the globe will vary depending on the programming, incorporating elements of nature such as ice and fire as appropriate.
"Shark Week" viewers will see a 30-second promo about the new branding. Discovery will also use a tagline, "Grab Life By the Globe," to help publicize the new focus, although it still will not use a tagline on a regular basis.
The new graphics and packaging are meant to signal a deeper change at the network, where characters will increasingly tell the stories rather than "voice of God" documentary narrators, Ms. Richardson said.
For Discovery, there's no better time to get noticed than "Shark Week," which last year brought in 21.4 million viewers during premiere episodes. The week-long programming stunt attracts significant buzz in pop culture, with celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Degeneres tweeting about last summer.
Now entering its 26th year, "Shark Week" attracts viewers who typically don't watch Discovery, and it's these viewers the network is hoping to get to stick around with the rebranding campaign.
Discovery kicked off its "Shark Week" marketing early this year, airing its "Snuffy the Seal" campaign during "Nik Wallenda's Skywire Live" feat in June. The spot features Snuffy being released into the water in front of onlookers, only to be attacked by a shark.
Snuffy became a trending topic on Twitter minutes after the commercial aired. The video has since been watched online more than five million times.
Discovery has also partnered with Coldstone Creamery for a themed ice cream sundae and cake and with Toms Shoes for limited-edition Shark Week-inspired shoes. Volkswagen will return as the presenting sponsor of Shark Week for the second year.
During "Shark Week," Discovery plans to host a Google+ hangout on the first night of "Shark Week" and will show related Tweets onscreen as the week goes on. It has also beefed up a Shark Cam giving fans 24-7 access to the underwater world and has added a Shark Week Plus app that syncs with TV content.