Animal Planet Hunts For Program Partners


Buoyed by a string of recent program-partnership successes, Animal Planet will now employ a dedicated sales executive to more aggressively pursue such deals.

That executive is Bill Graff, who as the network's vice president of programming was "instrumental in creating the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
partnership," Animal Planet executive vice president and general manager Michael Cascio said last week

As vice president of program partnerships, Graff will now track down other similar revenue-generating opportunities, in conjunction with the Discovery Networks U.S. ad-sales force. (Doug Craig succeeded Graff as head of Animal Planet programming two weeks ago.)

"Animal Planet's programming and philosophy lend itself well to programming partnerships," said Cascio. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
is the most visible of these, he said, but there have been others.

According to Cascio, other marketing partnerships involved: American Suzuki Motor Corp., for a multifaceted package deal involving conservation-themed interstitials and other components across various media; Paper-Mate, for a similarly multifaceted package, called "Wild About Writing" (featuring Jeff Corwin of The Jeff Corwin Experience); and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Iams Co., which backs the Eukanuba Tournament of Champions
dog shows.

"Every deal is different," Cascio observed. Some — like the deals with P&G and Mutual of Omaha — came to the network with the sponsors attached, while other accounts, like Suzuki, were matched with appropriate content.

In addition, there have been partnerships with movie studios for such titles as Snow Dogs, Ice Age
and Lilo and Stitch, he said.

"Graff instituted the majority of these deals," he said.

Cascio called the Wild Kingdom
deal, announced last April, "a natural combination of sponsor and network. It's truly a partnership, beneficial to everybody — including the viewers."

The first two primetime Wild Kingdom
specials covered by that deal have already run — "Lost Elephants of Timbuktu" in September and "Great Cats of India" in October. "Black Mamba" is due Nov. 12, while the remaining specials under the original pact are slated for March, April and May.

A seventh show — a Wild Kingdom
"40th anniversary retrospective" — is due for primetime in January, Cascio added. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
began as a weekly series on NBC in 1963 (it was called Zoo Parade
until 1968), moving to barter syndication from 1971 through 1988.

"We did the deal direct with Mutual of Omaha," said Cascio, who was unsure about who would handle renewal talks. Earlier this month, the insurer assigned media-buying duties to Horizon Media.

Animal Planet's partnership strategy matches one of the stated objectives of Discovery Networks U.S.'s new ad-sales chief — president of ad sales Joe Abruzzese, the former sales boss at CBS, noted Cascio.

"One of his priorities is to build partnerships," he said. "This is right in line with his list of priorities."