A decade ago, Animal Planet rebranded itself as a network that became “Surprisingly Human,” i.e. shifting to coverage of human beings and their relationships with animals. The flagship series was 2008’s Whale Wars, one of the best reality shows of the past two decades.
When I reported about the shift in animal and wildlife programming for NPR in 2010, Animal Planet’s Marjorie Kaplan told me its shows were focused on “people whose lives are enriched, changed, deepened through their relationship with this kind of primal world and the animals in it.”
Kaplan’s leadership and strategy paid off; Whale Wars was a hit, and so were shows like River Monsters. It also had ratings success from fiction, specifically its faux documentary about mermaids that embraced the Discovery Channel’s regrettable strategy.
The network “[became] a top 20 network for men in the United States,” according to a Discovery press release.
Now River Monsters is gone and Animal Planet has been flailing about, with shows that drip with phoniness (Treehouse Masters) and—well, I’m not even sure what’s on the network any more, other than My Cat From Hell, which is perfectly fine.
Two years ago, the network inexplicably buried and burned off a Whale Wars-ish series. It clearly lacked focus or, you know, shows.
So Animal Planet is trying to revive itself again, 10 years later, under the leadership of its global president, Susanna Dinnage, with a new logo that features a jumping elephant, which is much more fun in motion. Watch this promo to see it:
What Animal Planet will be focusing on now
The new key word for Animal Planet appears to be “family.”
Starting Oct. 28, Animal Planet’s new “global brand identity” will be focused on “a multi-platform experience for every member of the family,” according to the network, which describes its focus this way:
“With globally-appealing programming and talent faithful to new brand values, Animal Planet’s mission is squarely centered around keeping the childhood joy and wonder of animals alive by bringing people up close in every way.”
There’s also this:
“Animal Planet will blend consumer’s highly valued personal connections with animals with powerful natural history storytelling and content designed for optimization on all screens and platforms.”
Tangent: A blend of personal connections and animals sounds like a terrible smoothie.
In a press release, Dinnage said,
“Animal Planet has been a much-loved brand around the world for more than 20 years and the time has never been more right to engage with mass audiences across every platform who are as passionate about animals as we are. We are able to reach all generations through our content and storytelling—we are here to entertain and delight by bringing people up close to animals and nature. With recent successes we go from strength to strength as we position Animal Planet as a global brand leader.”
All of this “global” because the network isn’t just rolling out shows in the U.S., but across the Animal Planets around the world, like it did this year with Dodo Heroes.
What’s particularly exciting after an era of stagnation is that Animal Planet says it “is in active development and production on more than 25 new series.”
And smartly, the network is rebranding by going back to its roots, with Steve Irwin’s family’s new reality show. Crickey! It’s the Irwins uses Irwin’s catchphrase and name in the title, and also sounds like a show for kids.
Its 14 episodes premiere at the end of this month, on Oct. 28, and and during that same weekend, two other shows will premiere: Amanda To the Rescue, which follows a family who rescues dogs, and Big Cat Tales, a five-night natural history documentary series that also premieres that weekend.
So Animal Planet is relaunching with a lot of nostaglia, a bit of standard reality TV, and also a wildlife event series. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the network that The Crocodile Hunter built.