Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Shark Week vs SharkFest: Quick bites on strategy, audience, $23 million production spend, and more

The giant Discovery and Nat Geo shark promotions are going strong 33 summers after the launch of Shark Week in 1988?

  • What do these promotions tell us about how the legacy channels are transitioning to streaming?
  • And is the Shark programming niche really a $23+ million opportunity for producers?

Veteran programming executive and senior consultant Dan Salerno answers these questions and much more in this week’s guest post.

First, Dan’s side-by-side comparison of the Shark promotions:

by Dan Salerno



  • Viewing fades by 20% from 2020 in 25-54 demo.
  • Post-pandemic activities, return of Summer vacations, and the audience’s continuing transition to digital are all contributing factors.
  • Opening night is the strongest, with Crikey! It’s Shark Week leading the way.
  • Male gender breakout for audience is contrary to the female-skewing editorial face of Discovery+

Nat Geo

  • NGC loses 30% of the 2020 audience from 2020.
  • Nat Geo Wild drops by more than half.
  • This year’s event goes head to head with Discovery’s Shark Week and the Olympics for two of the four weeks.
  • NGC’s added fourth week fades significantly.
  • Opening night is the highlight, with Shark Beach with Chris Hemsworth leading the way by a sizeable margin.


  • Audience fatigue across each event is more noticeable.
  • Shark Week’s audience on the final day is just half that of opening night.
  • SharkFest’s audience follows a similar pattern, with NGC’s fourth week and the final two weeks on Wild below their respective network averages.


Specials vs Series

  • Shark Week’s ‘all specials’ strategy stays focused on the single week, with expanded efforts on Discovery+ and social media platforms.
  • SharkFest’s ‘mostly series/library’ approach revolves around expanding the linear footprint, growing from the original one week to this Summer’s six week event on multiple brands within their portfolio.
  • Specials drive.   Shark Week prime time is all specials.  SharkFest is series heavy, with extensive use of repurposed inventory, but it’s the original specials that lead in performance.


  • Celebrities abound on Shark Week.
  • In addition to Hollywood talent, home grown personalities like the Irwin family, Dr. Pimple Popper, and Josh Gates are featured.

Transition to Digital

  • Linear to Digital transition comes to Shark Week in a big way.
  • Discovery featured over a dozen original premieres, including one series, on Discovery+.
  • Disney+ dipped their toe in the digital waters, debuting the doc feature Playing with Sharks. 
  • Looking ahead to 2022, we expect original opportunities to remain steady, if not increase should Disney+ choose to get more aggressive with premieres.
  • It’s possible Nat Geo could cut back on the six week linear run, although it shouldn’t impact the vol of premieres.

Launching Pad

  • Once again this year, both events serve as a launching pad for new and returning series.
  • Shark Week pushed to as many as seven series, including Naked & Afraid, Street Outlaws, and Gold Rush: Winter’s Fortune.
  • Likewise, SharkFest launched several series as well, including Cesar Millan, Unknown Waters, and Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks.

What’s the financial scale?

  • A conservative estimate for the average budget / hour for Shark Week and SharkFest originals is $500,000.
  • Total originals: 26+21 = 47
  • Scale of annual shark production: $23.5 million.
  • Other networks and platforms dip into the shark niche.

The winners are!

And finally… the big winners are the producers!

  • Commissioning volume is up for Nat Geo.
  • Discovery+’s need for exclusive content adds even more volume to demand.
  • We expect original opportunities to remain steady, if not increase if Disney+ chooses to get more aggressive with premieres.
  • The focus on specials vs series means there are more opportunities than ever for the production community.

Producers: If you’ve got a great shark idea, now’s the time!!

Added Thoughts…

Discovery+ / Discovery

  • High volume of announcements and premieres continues.
  • Volume strategy remains.
  • Franchise spinoffs continue.
  • No breakout originals yet.  No “Mandelorian”.
  • Second seasons are starting to get commissioned.
  • Picking up the pace on windowing D+ series back to the networks.
  • Related…increasing the use of linear to promote or sneak peek D+ series.
  • Behind the scenes…indications that digital is increasingly first on editorial choices.
  • Warner Bros merger…no visible impact yet on operations or editorial.  BTS there are rumblings though.

Disney+ / Nat Geo

  • Low volume/high profile strategy remains
  • Very few originals have rolled out.
  • Inventory still dominates.
  • Franchise spinoffs are not a factor: Original concepts lead.
  • Disney brand filter shapes the offer.  Exceptions are sharks, Wicked Tuna.
  • TCA announcements featured some new originals.  Several linear projects have shifted to Disney+.

Dan Salerno

Dan Salerno is a veteran media executive whose career spans multiple platforms across the global television business.  He has been a key member of the leadership team for established and emerging networks, with an emphasis on strategic planning and content development.

Most recently National Geographic’s head of Programming, focusing on programming, development, and strategy, Dan’s career also includes BBC, Gospel, Fuse, and the original launch team at Discovery and its sister channels.

Involved in a wide range of programming milestones, he counts Planet Earth, Walking with Dinosaurs, Mythbusters, Shark Week, Safari Live and Pants Off Dance Off amongst his favorites.

Listen to Dan’s podcast: How the channels are responding to the rise of the streamers.