Nat Geo 2016-17 Upfront

When Courteney Monroe, National Geographic Global Networks’s CEO, presented Nat Geo’s 2016-17 Upfront slate, she said she wanted to “talk about the new National Geographic and our belief in the power of storytelling to change the world.”

National Geographic is one of the most preeminent and iconic brands in the world, Monroe explained. “It’s awe-inspiring, it’s meaningful, it’s distinctive and it’s beloved,” she said. As a result, she and her teams are “harnessing the power of our vast portfolio, which is unparalleled in the marketplace, to tell stories ***Image***that break through and matter,” and that extend across all of the company’s many consumer touchpoints.

National Geographic assets reach more than 730 million consumers around the world every month; the TV network reaches 440 million households in 171 countries; the print and digital magazine reach 56 million people every month; 250 million people interact with National Geographic on social media; the channel’s Facebook page has more followers than any other television network; and National Geographic is the number one non-celebrity brand on Instagram. Last, but not least, Nat Geo’s footprint reaches 35 percent of the world’s Millennials, and this age group, as well as female viewers, are two demos Monroe wants to attract to the channel, without losing the core audience that craves science, technology, survival, engineering and space programming.

“We are significantly increasing our investment in pursuing an exciting and radically new path,” said Monroe. “Our vision is to harness the power of our brand along with the power of our global reach to become the world’s leading destination for premium science, adventure and exploration content. We are taking epic, audacious programming swings with much bigger budgets aimed to a broader, more upscale audience and developed and ***Image***produced in collaboration with the very best A-list creative talent from around the world.”

The upcoming six-part series MARS, from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and RadicalMedia, is an example of the scale, scope and creative ambition National Geographic Channel is pursuing. Howard was on hand to talk about the project, which combines theatrical-quality scripted drama with documentary footage.

MARS is incredibly ambitious,” he explained. “It’s an epic miniseries. It depicts a tremendous adventure—this is what Brian Grazer and I are most attracted to—and it’s about the human race’s first effort to colonize and permanently inhabit Mars. It is thoroughly researched scripted material intercut with a very ambitious documentary approach using footage of current research efforts, space exploration past and present, cool graphics, and interviews with scientists and innovators.”

Howard welcomes the challenge presented to him. “National Geographic has provided Brian and me and our team at Imagine a really stimulating, exciting and challenging opportunity. [The documentary series] Breakthrough was exciting; we are doing more [with MARS]. That type of documentary is very satisfying, but MARS is interesting in that it urges us to find this nexus between science, true-life adventure and the drama of our human experience.”

Monroe went on to present the upcoming event Earth Live!, from Bunim/Murray Productions and Berman Productions, which is described as the ultimate live broadcast from the natural world. A group of in-studio hosts and experts will direct viewers to scenes of wildlife action as it happens, from feeding time on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to polar bears swimming in Norway and jaguar hunting in Brazil.

Another new series will be Origins,hosted by Jason Silva, from Asylum Entertainment and melodysheep. Silva, of Brain Games fame, will take the audience back to the origins of some of the most important developments of mankind—fire, tools, transportation, communications—and tell the stories of how the modern world came about.

Joining the slate of new programming is National Geographic Studios’s limited series Chain of Command, which offers viewers inside access to the U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan, as it unfolds over one full year, and how decisions made at the Pentagon are carried out by service men and women on the ground. Also from the studio is Deep Freeze, in which filmmakers have been granted access to Scott Base on Antarctica and to the men and women conducting pivotal scientific experiments.

Another limited series is Lawless Oceans with Karsten von Hoesslin, from Wall to Wall Media. In it, von Hoesslin immerses himself in the dangerous world of maritime crime.

Monroe also highlighted the relaunch of Explorer. With host Richard Bacon, Explorer will return as a weekly magazine/talk-show hybrid shot in front of a live audience with celebrity guests, experts and correspondents discussing topics in the news. The series Years of Living Dangerously returns for its second season.

Feature documentaries such as Parched from Alex Gibney and Jigsaw Productions and an untitled Sebastian Junger project will also air next season. Produced as a feature doc and television miniseries, Parched will look at a crisis that affects billions worldwide—the scarcity of fresh drinking water—while the untitled Sebastian Junger project from Goldcrest Films will examine the complexities of the wars in Syria and Iraq.

Rounding out the slate are scripted series. Monroe is looking at three or four a year, with Killing Reagan from Scott Free Productions set to premiere this fall before the U.S. presidential elections.

Monroe told TV Real that the impetus for this new strategy of bold premium content was the series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. “When we launched Cosmos with our colleagues at FOX, that was the tipping point for me. It was really clear that there is audience demand for big event, brand-definitional science programming. Cosmos was watched by 135 million people around the world. As long as you tell the story with Hollywood storytelling and production values, the audiences will come. To me that was a moment when I thought, That’s what we should be doing. That’s what we should be striving for; that’s what people should come to expect from National Geographic.”

She adds that the factors that have contributed to attracting top A-list talent have been: the brand, for which so many people have such affinity and respect; a much more ambitious strategy to tell premium stories; larger budgets; and the full support and engagement of Fox Networks Group and its chairman and CEO, Peter Rice.