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Discovery To Launch Online ‘Sharkopedia’ to Lend Credible Bite To ‘Shark Week’

The Discovery Channel is tapping new digital-media ideas to make sure its venerable “Shark Week” franchise doesn’t get long in the tooth.

Yet rather than use the medium best known for flooding consumers with bits of content just right for short-attention spans, the network will release content that allows fans of the annual toothy-fish celebration take a deeper dive into the subject. In 2015, “Shark Week” debuts July 5 — several weeks earlier than its August norm.

A “Sharkopedia,” or a comprehensive guide to sharks presented online, will be part of the proceedings for the first time. Discovery has begun to enlist shark experts — scientists, divers, filmmakers, photographers, advocates, and artists – as “finbassadors” who are being given rein on the cable network’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts to discuss sharks in detail. And Discovery will unveil SnapChat stories featuring mascot character Chompie Jr. and his adventures, and live-stream Meerkat events, including a live shark feeding at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md.

“It’s our Super Bowl,” said  Paul Pastor, executive vice president of network strategy, revenue and operations, in an interview Wednesday. “There are so many different ways for people to interact with ‘Shark Week,’ and we are building a big, multiplatform experience that has huge reach across Facebook and Twitter. But we are also evolving” to newer venues.

The network has good reason to burnish the event in new ways that point to the events underlying roots.  In 2014, “Shark Week”nabbed its best ratings ever in women between 18 and 49 – breaking a record established in 2000 — as well as total viewers between 25 and 54. Yet the big ratings prompted some fans to bite. Documentaries like “Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine” and “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives” were filled with dramatic license, featured actors playing scientists in search of sharks that have long been extinct and peppered in false bits of information that the network called out with tiny disclaimers run during the shows.

This year’s program lineup includes “Monster Mako,” which depicts a team of scientists seeking to clock the top speed of a mako shark; “Super Predator,” which shows wildlife filmmaker Dave Riggs searching for a predator off the coast of Australia that ate a 9-foot great white shark; and “Shark Island,” which tells the story of residents and scientists on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean attempting to thwart a series — seven deaths in four years — of devastating shark attacks.

Rich Ross, a former Shine America and Walt Disney executive, has vowed since being named president of Discovery Channel last fall to steer the network back to authenticity and back off stunts like Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walks or documentary series that rely on gimmickry and dramatizations. This year’s digital efforts for “Shark Week” – a digital compendium of shark facts? – would suggest the network is focusing more diligently on the themes of science and curiosity that have long been part of its overall brand.

Evidence shows fans are still drawn to the event. Discovery has seen triple-digit increases in unique visitors to SharkWeek.com in recent weeks, Pastor said, and more than 65 million people have visited a Facebook page devoted to “Shark Week” in the past three months.

The digital content for “Shark Week” won’t be isolated from its TV programming. During each night of “Shark Week,” at 8 p.m. ET, Discovery will tell viewers that the programs are “powered by” Sharkopedia, and facts about sharks will be presented in different parts of the screen that prompt viewers to check out digital content related to the shows.

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