It's hard to put a finger on why exactly sharks capture people's
fascination, but it seems they inspire the right mix of awe and
"It goes back to 'Jaws' and the imprint it made on our culture,"
said marketing expert Adam Hanft. "The shark is a cultural metaphor
for our fears and anxiety and our fascination with the unexpected
danger lurking below the surface of the beauty and calm of the
Discovery's execs couldn't have known what "Shark Week" would
become when the first of its programming, "Caged in Fear," aired
July 17, 1988. But they soon found out. In its first year, "Shark
Week" nearly doubled Discovery Channel's normal prime-time
Discovery has aired 151 shark-themed programs during "Shark
Week's" 25-year run. That's a lot of sharks -- and the network
churns out new original programming every year.
Technology has been a big help in keeping programming fresh,
said Brooke Runnette, director-production and development at
Discovery Channel. "New, more advanced cameras allow viewers to see
sharks doing things the naked eye could never see before."
The science of sharks is constantly evolving, giving Discovery
new material every year. "Sharks are still not as understood as
other animals like lions and chimpanzees," said Eileen O'Neill,
group president of Discovery and TLC Networks.
*First year Nielsen data available
"Shark Week" also has timing on its side. "There's not a whole
lot on at the end of July and August when "Shark Week' normally
airs," said Scott Felenstein, senior VP-ad sales, at Discovery
In fact, "Shark Week" was pushed back two weeks this year not to
overlap with the Olympics -- indicating sharks aren't afraid of
anything but Michael Phelps.
While the sharks have always been the central focus, Discovery
began including celebrity hosts in 1994, the first being "Jaws"
author Peter Benchley. Since then, supermodel Heidi Klum, talk-show
host Craig Ferguson and comedian Andy Samberg have all become fin
Since 2003, "Shark Week" has consistently attracted more than 20
million viewers; last year 27 million people tuned in.
"Shark Week" draws a younger audience for Discovery Channel than
its normal programming, making it especially attractive to
advertisers. "Shark Week's" sweet spot is a viewer 31 years old,
Mr. Felenstein said -- about eight years younger than its other
"For Discovery, it's the Super Bowl," he said.