Discovery Channel’s 26th annual Shark Week, a pop culture phenomenon in its own right, is scheduled to air this year amidst the shark hysteria generated by Syfy’s social juggernaut Sharknado.
Both channels boast millions of viewers and social mentions as a result of their shark programming, resulting in expanded content and partnerships – and even making actress Tara Reid relevant again.
Shark Week returns to Discovery on August 4 at 8 p.m.
According to the network, 11 Shark Week episodes plus the first-ever late night Shark Week talk show will give Shark Week 2013 the most premiere hours in the history of the event.
Discovery says its website is the top destination for shark lovers and will feature a live Shark Cam this year in partnership with the National Aquarium.
In addition, the network says shark fans will find Shark Week’s first original web series, a virtual sub-aquatic road trip, a live Shark Tracker, and a simultaneous viewing experience with Discovery Plus, an online platform that delivers interactive content synced to programming, which complements the premiere line-up each night.
“Twenty-six years ago when cable was in its infancy, Discovery Channel wanted to have an epic, crazy week and the idea was borne from a programming meeting,” says Scott Lewers, senior vice president of programming for Discovery. “And this one-time-only event has become this pop culture icon phenomenon.”
Last year, Shark Week netted 21.4 million viewers and 1.6 million tweets.
“In the last two years, it has taken on new forms, pushing the boundaries of what it is,” Lewers says. “The Sharknado phenomenon shows the hunger for crazy shark stories and concepts. This year, we’re pushing it further.”
That includes the quasi-supernatural with Voodoo Sharks, as well as Shark After Dark, a “socially driven one-hour comedy-based” late night show with host comedian Josh Wolf and help from CBS The Late Late Show frontman Craig Ferguson.
Starting Sunday, Discovery will be all sharks, all the time for the duration of Shark Week. The network will air “retro specials” during the day and premieres from 8:00 to 12:00 each night.
While Discovery generally targets men, Lewers says “Shark Week is more of a healthy balance,” casting a wider net for adults 18 to 49.
“The fun of it brings younger viewers and family viewers,” he says.
That in turn spurs additional partnerships, such as the ice cream chain Cold Stone Creamery, which is offering Shark Week sundaes with blue waffle cones and gummy sharks, as well as Toms Shoes, which has created an exclusive shoe for Shark Week that is “selling like hotcakes and we haven’t even entered Shark Week yet,” Lewers says.
Discovery is also working with Georgetown Cupcakes, which is featured on sister network TLC’s DC Cupcakes, to produce Shark Week and Snuffy the Seal cupcakes.
Snuffy the Seal is a tragic figure featured in a Shark Week promo.
“That was us taking a bit of a swing, going more for comedy and fun,” Lewers says.
It aired for the first time during Discovery’s broadcast of daredevil Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon in June. Per Lewers, the promo trended worldwide and has since racked up 1.5 million hits on YouTube.
What’s more, after introducing live tweets on-screen for two hours a night last year, that figure is doubling to four hours for all 2013 premieres.
According to Lewers, the network has created an in-house system with social experience platform Mass Relevance to capture tweets and air them almost immediately.
“We can have anywhere from 50 to 70 tweets an hour,” Lewers says.
In order to participate, viewers must tag tweets with #SharkWeek or use a hashtag with the name of show.
“The system captures it. I’ve been in the control room when thousands upon thousands of tweets come in. The social team is poring over them to pick the best ones to put on air within two minutes of the tweet,” he adds.
As of August 1, Shark Week has 780,000 Facebook fans and 105,000 followers.
Sharknado, Syfy’s disaster film about a hurricane that hits Los Angeles and brings sharks to “terrorize the waterlogged populace,” caused its own frenzy shortly after the Snuffy spot first aired.
According to Syfy, the July 11 premiere was its most social telecast ever with 387,000 mentions, including tweets from actors Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde and Mia Farrow, as well as the American Red Cross.
And, per a tweet from @Syfy on July 30, viewership numbers continue to rise with subsequent airings – from 1.4 to 2.1 million.
A Syfy rep did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
As a result of its popularity, Syfy has said it plans to produce Sharknado 2, which is slated to premiere in 2014 and will take place in New York, and it is running a Twitter contest to find an appropriate subtitle. Fans can tweet suggestions to @SyfyMovies with the hashtag #Sharknado.
Suggestions so far include “Heart of Sharkness” and “The Jawshank Redemption.”
In addition, movie theater chain Regal Entertainment Group said it will host midnight shows of Sharknado on August 2 at approximately 200 cinemas.
According to Regal, at its peak, #Sharknado registered about 5,000 tweets per minute, and, as of July 26, had accumulated more than 600,000 social mentions.
@SyfyPR says Syfy will air Sharknado for the last time this year on August 22. The broadcast will lead into the network’s premiere of another shark movie, #GhostShark.
Syfy is an NBCUniversal property.