Nat Geo Hunts for More Ad Dollars

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Like the wildlife featured in so much of its programming, National Geographic Channel is hunting — in its case, for more ad dollars.

As bait, NGC will use 450 hours of original series and specials set for 2003-04, including six new series.

NGC senior vice president of media sales Rich Goldfarb, Fox Cable Entertainment executive vice president of ad sales Bruce Lefkowitz and others have given their upfront spiel to more than 100 individual agencies and advertisers since mid-March.

Touting shows

The six new series are: Be the Creature (featuring the Kratt Brothers of PBS's Zoboomafoo); Crittercam; Dangerous Jobs; Doctors Without Borders: Crisis Zone; Mission Rescue; and Worlds Apart.

Doctors Without Borders is being rushed from fall to a third-quarter start, due to the show's topicality: the group's physicians were involved in both the Iraq war and the outbreak of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

A Worlds Apart
special just aired as part of NGC's "Culture Shock Week." The reality show transplants an American family to another culture — that of Kenya in the first outing.

Though he wouldn't offer dollar figures, Goldfarb said he is "strongly optimistic" that NGC's programming and the improved post-Iraq war ad climate will mean a healthy upfront for both cable and NGC.

"Advertisers don't want to pay high again in scatter," as has been the case this year, "and that can only feed the upfront," Goldfarb predicted.

Porsche is NGC's newest auto account, Merrill Lynch its newest financial advertiser.

'Isolated: 30s'

The network, which launched in January 2001, has nearly 43 million households at present and is en route to a projected 50 million by spring 2004, Goldfarb said two weeks ago. It is among the least-watched channels in cable, though.

According to Nielsen Media Research data provided by MTV Networks, NGC fell below a 0.1 rating among ages 2-plus and 18 to 49 for the week of April 3, averaging 104,000 primetime viewers in the 2-plus category — No. 53 among 55 ranked networks.

Although the channel "could not have picked a more challenging time" to start — during "an advertising depression" — Goldfarb said it has signed more than 175 advertisers.

To bolster sales, NGC has devised some unusual strategies, such as offering "isolated national :30s" — a limited number of units with no adjacent spots, as a way around clutter — within National Geographic Today
and National Geographic Presents, Goldfarb said.

Another, he said, is "targeted sponsorship segments" within National Geographic Today. These include the Nikon-sponsored "Get the Picture;" science featurettes, sold to IBM Corp. and Cisco; "Liquid Planet," sold to Red Lobster and Royal Caribbean; "Adventure," bought by Toyota; "Zip Codes," rotated among FedEx, UPS and Remax; and "Travel," sold in flights to Orbitz, Walt Disney World and Hawaii Tourism.

NGC, which also offers "sponsorable sweepstakes," now will sell packages on its umbrella Web site (www.NG.com) with streaming-video capability advertisers can tap.

Caption sponsors

Also new: Closed-captioning sponsorships in Mission Rescue, Crittercam
and two returning series, versus just National Geographic Today a year ago.

Goldfarb said that NGC has also done some ad deals encompassing its Web site and publishing unit. These "integrated marketing opportunities" can also involve its global media assets for multinational clients, he said.

But NGC has so far participated in just one cross-media deal that included Fox Cable networks.

Mercedes is one current cross-platform client. AIG sponsored both NGC's Surviving Everest
special this month and the Mount Everest expedition shown. Ricoh and Toyota are other cross-media clients.

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