How ‘Shark Week’ Reeled in ‘Aquaman’ Star Jason Momoa to Amp Up Warner Bros. Discovery Synergy

Discovery’s Shark Week has been a TV institution for 35 years, a summertime staple that has never changed its core purpose: Celebrating the great white and its brethren.

But a lot has changed around Shark Week in the decades since, including an explosion of popularity (as “30 Rock” once put it, we all now strive to “live every week like it’s Shark Week”), more competition, a few controversies and one giant corporate acquisition. In 2023, the Warner Bros. Discovery-produced TV event now has a few more boxes to check: From keeping its linear ratings (which grew 10% year-over-year in 2022) up to driving customers to two streaming platforms, Max and Discovery+. Shark Week has also been enlisted to help promote other TV shows and movies in the WBD family. But it also faces lingering concerns over the makeup of its programming (often criticized for lacking enough scientific research or proper experts), while simultaneously competing with younger copycat programming from rival companies Nat Geo’s Sharkfest.

“First and foremost, the core mission of Shark Week is about celebrating these creatures and the fact that other brands are starting to do it, just from a mission perspective, is a good thing,” WBD’s U.S. Networks senior vice president of marketing Josh Kovolenko told Variety. “It’s not just always about the competition of it. We don’t see it that way. People feel passionate about the subject matter and that is good for the ultimate core mission of it.”

Fans also feel passionate for Jason Momoa, which is why Kovolenko says the DC Films star was the right (Aqua)man for this year’s Shark Week hosting job.

“We knew we had somebody that this meant a lot to,” Kovolenko said. “This wasn’t about just showing up and reading a prompter. There is no prompter. He’s really just interacting with the scientists, with these amazing people that have in some way have dedicated their lives to what our core mission is.”

This year’s Shark Week kicked off at 8 p.m. ET on Discovery Channel with Momoa’s first of seven nights guiding viewers through this year’s offering of 20 new hours of shark-related content. That includes “Belly of the Beast: Feeding Frenzy,” which gave a first time, close-up look at a great white shark feast captured by researchers with cameras inside a whale carcass decoy.

To get that feeding frenzy going, Warner Bros. Discovery has been airing or promoting Shark Week content across all of its networks, including TBS, TNT, TruTV, TLC, Food Network, HGTV, CNN, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, Science Channel, ID and TCM.

That mix of promotional fare has included a shark movie marathon on TCM, a Shark Week-themed cage match on TBS’s “AEW: Dynamite” and promo ads that combine multiple WBD summer titles at once: For example a TV spot for HGTV’s “Barbie Dream House Challenge” that is simultaneously promoting Shark Week and winking at Warner Bros.’ newly released “Barbie” movie, of course.

Momoa’s appearance throughout Shark Week is itself an ad for the upcoming “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Kovolenko says Momoa was very involved in the substance of this year’s programming, including an interview he conducted with a surfer who was bitten by a shark last year and has since dedicated their life to being an underwater photographer.

“It was very important to him that he’s not the expert in this,” Kovolenko said. “Just like the close to 30 million viewers that will experience this, he’s learning and he wanted his curiosity to come through. He was very excited to participate in it because it was deep within his Hawaiian roots. He was definitely influential on who he wanted to speak with and the types of people he wanted to interview and speak with. But I think what you will find, and it’s really quite endearing, is a superhero, Jason Momoa, Aquaman himself, sitting there learning alongside you. He wanted to make sure that he wasn’t positioned as an expert in this space.”

It’s clear Kovolenko has full faith in Momoa’s abilities to lead this Shark Week, filled with titles like “Cocaine Sharks” and “The Haunting of Shark Tower,” from a genuine place (while simultaneously promoting “Aquaman 2”). But the marketing exec says that once this edition of Shark Week is over, the work begins on figuring out which cross-promo aspects of the mega event worked and what might have seemed fishy to viewers.

“What we’ve found is there is a ‘what feels good’ over what was really impactful,” Kovolenko said. “For us, it’s ensuring that any messaging we’re doing is really connecting with the viewer in the way they want to be connected with — not just because we feel like it’s something that we want to customize. We’ve also learned over the last year where the opportunities are within the portfolio for the audience and then to connect with them.

“We’ve gotten better at really finding what’s important to certain audiences and how the properties speak to those audiences,” he added. “That’s something, as a marketer, that you can only learn through campaigns. Last year, the first time we really started to roll something out like this with the full U.S. nets portfolio was supporting ‘Elvis.’ Then we did it for Shark Week and for ‘House of the Dragon.’ Each time we do it, we all learn a little more about what really worked. I think you just see us continually refine that.”

And, presumably, find a way inside WBD to market every week like it’s Shark Week.

See below for Discovery’s Shark Week 2023 schedule.

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