Discovery's 'Beasts' Ride Herd in Ratings


Discovery Channel, bolstered by the response to its special Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, is developing a similar show about some of man's forebears.

Executive vice president and general manager Clark Bunting said the network — which registered its third-highest ratings ever with the Dec. 9 premiere of Beasts
— will again collaborate with the British Broadcasting Corp. on a special based on the emergence of early man.

"Something on the line of Walking with Cavemen," Bunting quipped. The show — which, like Beasts
would also deploy computer-generated animation, animatronics and digital technology — could be completed as early as 2003, he noted.

Walking with Prehistoric Beasts
— which explored a wide array of now-extinct creatures, including the saber cat smilodon, the giant pig-like entelodont and human precursors Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man — averaged a 4.7 household rating during its Dec. 9 debut. That translated into 4 million households and 7.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

That performance made the special, telecast from 7 p.m to 10 p.m., the third-highest rated program in Discovery history and cable's top-rated documentary for 2001. The show also generated a 3.9 rating among viewers aged 25 to 54, translating into 3.9 million viewers within the demographic.

"It was an absolutely stunning performance," Bunting said. "It proves that a quality production will perform well."

The special generated a higher household rating within its time period than broadcasters The WB or Pax TV, as well as all other basic cable networks, aside from ESPN and its NFL Sunday Night Football.

Among the 25-to-54 demo, Discovery Channel on average ranked ahead of NBC, The WB, Pax and all
other basic and pay-cable services during its time slot.

A BBC/Discovery Channel/TV Asahi & BS Asahi/ProSieben co-production, the special combined computer animation, animatronics and digital technology to create a photo-realistic interpretation of what the earth might have been like in the eons after the dinosaur epoch.

Beasts's predecessor, Walking with Dinosaurs, was Discovery's top-rated program, earning an 8 household rating for an average viewership of 10.7 million people when it bowed on April 16, 2000. Raising the Mammoth
was No. 2, thundering to a 7.8 rating during its March 12, 2000 premiere.

All told, some 18.6 million people tuned into some part of Beasts
during its premiere or the encore presentation that immediately followed.

In other news, Discovery and the BBC announced a deal that would expand the availability of BBC news material across all of Discovery's analog cable channels. Discovery now airs live news from the BBC on its BBC America service.

Bunting said the deal — which arose from Discovery's use of the BBC World news feed on TLC immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as September's successful Behind the Terror: Understanding the Enemy
special — would allow the network to provide more context to its documentary shows.

He declined to specify whether the deal would spawn any additional news reports from the BBC that are similar to its TLC arrangement. He said the BBC and Discovery have completed a co-production, focusing on the world's oceans, to premiere next month.