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NatGeo Boss Doesn’t Fear Uncertain Future for Linear: ‘Disney+ Is Our Contingency Plan’

As the Walt Disney Company mulls over the potential sale of its linear assets, National Geographic president Courteney Monroe said the brand is ready to weather the storm, should it come.

“Disney+ is our contingency plan,” Monroe told TheWrap in a Thursday interview during the Television Critics Association winter press tour, pointing to Walt Disney Company-owned linear networks like FX, Disney Channel and NatGeo, all of whom have homes across streamers Disney+ and Hulu. “We are well-positioned regardless of what the future looks like.”

Monroe called the launch of the NatGeo tile on Disney+ in spring 2022 a “gift” to the brand, noting that the digital presence exposed a younger generation to the historic company, which serves to “preserve [its] vitality” in the long run.

“If we were only relegated to linear television networks and a print magazine, we would be talking about a very different future,” Monroe said. “But given how much engagement we have on digital and Disney+, the future looks really bright for National Geographic.”

NatGeo has found success with Disney+ subscribers by harnessing Disney IP on projects like “A Real Bug’s Life,” narrated by Awkwafina, which the network touts as one of the most-watched Disney+ series since its Jan. 24 premiere. The docuseries was renewed for Season 2 on Thursday.

Monroe said the network aims to keep tapping into further Disney IP through a NatGeo lens. (The idea of a “A Real Finding Nemo” has been thrown around, though Monroe confirmed there have been no “formal conversations” with Pixar or the film’s director Andrew Stanton.)

“It’s reinforced our belief that we should be looking elsewhere for Disney IP, and playing around with different tones of voice with National Geographic storytelling to attract the young audiences that exist on the Disney+ platform,” she said.

While Monroe admits “A Real Bug’s Life” was created with a Disney+ audience in mind given the original Pixar film, she noted NatGeo takes a “platform agnostic” view on creating new content across the brand, with commonality lying in the “mission of our storytelling as opposed to tailoring the stories to a different platform.”

“We’re finding that National Geographic storytelling really does appeal to different audiences — the same exact story — it’s just reaching different demographics depending on the platform,” Monroe said. “Those stories can exist in the National Geographic print magazine, they can exist in shortform on social, they can exist in longform on Disney+ or on linear.”

As NatGeo comes up on five years since being acquired by Disney, Monroe reflected on the complimentary fit between the companies saying, “we had a wonderful run being part of the Fox Corporation, but there is so much more potential to unlock inside of Disney.”

Monroe also discussed ongoing conversations to expand NatGeo’s presence in the entertainment giant beyond the big and small screen, including incorporating the brand into the Walt Disney’s travel business, consumer products and amusement parks.

“The momentum we have behind those conversations is really exciting, and there just weren’t those opportunities previously,” Monroe said. “Our television, films and streaming remain our No. 1 priority, but I think the possibilities are endless.”

Still, as Disney tightens its belt and focuses on ensuring quality over quantity, NatGeo finds itself in alignment with this approach — a mindset Monroe says the company has embraced for years.

“Since I’ve been in this role, and been on this transformational journey with National Geographic, it really has been about gravitating to less of a volume, linear cable play — which was sort of traditionally what factual channels we’re focused on — to much more of a premium, higher quality, fewer but bigger, better play,” Monroe said. “It’s certainly the North Star that we get from Bob Iger, but it’s shared vision for us all.”

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