Shark Week gobbles up viewers

Discovery widens the lineup to include more social media

Discovery Channel is pulling out all the digital stops to make the 25th anniversary of Shark Week even more memorable to its huge audience of “fin-actics.”

In just the past year, digital experiences for Shark Week have evolved, from an update to Discovery’s iPad app to live streaming of programs and live, on-air Twitter feeds.

“This is just the latest iteration of something we’ve been doing for a while, integrating viewers more tightly into our programming, recognizing that fans are emotionally invested and giving them a way to participate,” says Miguel Monteverde, VP of digital media for Discovery Channel.

Last year, there were 750,000 tweets about Shark Week on the microblogging service. This year, with tweets being televised from 9 p.m.-10 p.m. nightly, the net hopes to far surpass that number.

Another plank in Discovery Communications’ multiplatform strategy is an audio-synced viewing experience, Shark Week Plus, with behind-the-scenes information, photos, info-graphics, quizzes, polls and additional companion material for five Shark Week 2012 premieres, which include “Air Jaws Apocalypse,” a show using a Phantom High-Speed Camera to show great whites jumping out of the water to attack their prey, and “How ‘Jaws’ Changed the World.”

“The big thing is to get viewers closer than ever before,” Monteverde says. “We are trying to make Shark Week a more intimate experience, not a passive sit-back-on-the-couch situation, with the promise of social TV — bringing together communities of viewers in real time to celebrate shows that America can watch together.”

Shark Week averaged 27 million viewers last year, and almost 31 million in 2010.

Another audience-engagement feature that’s new this year is “Chompdown,” in which auds can vote via Facebook and Twitter, beginning at 9 p.m. every night, on items to be eaten by a huge mechanical shark, and then watch it happen live on Disovery at the end of the 10 p.m. hour.

Online, audiences will be able to get a personalized view of great whites and other aquatic species through the “Shark Cam 360,” which sits in the middle of an aquarium and uses a 360-degree lens in real time that viewers can manipulate to view sharks and fish. This is the third year for the camera, but the first time it will be immersed in the center, and not at the edge, of the pool.

For Discovery, Shark Week is an event akin to the Super Bowl. “It is one of America’s great summer television pastimes,” Monteverde says. “If viewers are more inclined to watch our shows because we’ve made them more social, we benefit from a ratings bump.”

Ultimately, after all, it’s all about taking the biggest bite out of the summer Nielsens.