Marketers get ‘missions’ for Mars

Wanna go to Mars? Discovery Channel is preparing its multi-million dollar Mars programs for the fall schedule. The content will roll out on air and online, and marketers are invited to get in on the Mars mission programming push.

The Discovery Channel is finalizing time slots and sponsorship details for its fall programming blitz about man’s mission to the red planet. A hefty budget for the project – about $20 million – was committed last May, when Discovery announced a deal with Montreal-based Galafilm Productions to produce the four-part docudrama, Race to Mars, and six-part companion series, Mars Rising.

The two programs will fuel a fall programming strategy that aims to draw viewers in with drama, interaction and speculation about a manned trip to the red planet in 2030. Discovery president/GM Paul Lewis promises the Mars initiative ‘will be one of the biggest factually-based programming events ever.’

Discovery VP sales and marketing Sally Basmajian tells MiC the net is planning to sell a major sponsorship – called ‘Mission A’ – for a cool $1 million. Integration details are still in development. During two-hour Mars programming blocks starting in September, the Mission A sponsor will get the equivalent of five 30-second spots and three billboards, while a smaller sponsor – dubbed Mission B – will get three on-air spots. When the Mars programming drops to one-hour time slots, the Mission A sponsor will get three on-air spots.

The Mission A sponsor will also get tie-ins with the Discovery Channel’s consumer advertising efforts and involvement in the Mars Interactive companion site developed by Toronto-based QuickPlay Media (which created the Degrassi site for CTV). ‘It’s going to be the deepest, richest accompanying power site we’ve ever had for any of our properties,’ says Basmajian.

‘It’s going to be very highly integrated with the production, with lots of features such as games and information,’ she adds. ‘It’s also going to be devised so that it’s appropriate for different age groups. There will be more than one target demographic, because what we’re trying to do with the Mars initiative is really capture the imaginations of people throughout Canada, regardless of age.’

Scheduling of the programs is strategically timed. NASA plans to launch the Phoenix Mars Mission, an unmanned trip to the red planet, in August. Capitalizing on the buzz surrounding the live launch, Discovery will air a one-hour documentary on the mission (title and time slot yet to be finalized). Video vignettes about Mars (30- and 60-seconds each) will begin airing on the channel in August, rotating throughout the daily schedule until November.

Race to Mars will premiere in a two-hour block (8-10 pm) on Sunday, Sept. 23, with the remaining part and conclusion scheduled for the same time slot on Sunday, Sept. 30. The following Sunday, Oct. 7, will see the two-hour premiere of Mars Rising hit the air before it rolls out the remaining four parts in one-hour blocks (which may or may not remain in the Sunday night time slot).

The programming will also coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, an event that will generate space exploration and celebration news around the globe. (Europe plans to send up 50 small satellites to commemorate the date in October). As well, Discovery’s flagship program, Daily Planet, will feature its own factoids and segments around the Mars programming push.

At the conclusion of the two Mars series, the net will air a special one-hour Daily Planet town hall production, in which scientists and the public will be brought together to debate the question: Should we be planning to set human feet on Mars?

Nielsen’s fall 2006 data on English Canadian specialty channels cited Discovery as the net with the highest average weekly reach – about four million adults 25-54. As the number-one non-sports specialty net in Canada (based on AMA), Discovery also placed as the top specialty net for Canadians with household incomes of $75,000-plus and $100,000-plus.

Heading into the spring schedule, Discovery’s standing among specialties is solidified by the results from the 2006 TV Quality Survey, a measure of 1,354 Canadians’ attitudes about TV conducted by BBM Canada subsidiary ComQuest Research using last October and December. The 2006 TVQ survey respondents named Discovery Channel the number-one specialty net worth paying for and the top specialty net for both viewer awareness and viewer satisfaction.