Nat Geo’s Courteney Monroe talks brand transformation, scripted-programming strategy at MIPCOM


Earlier this week, Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, delivered keynote remarks at MIPCOM, marking the first time National Geographic was invited for a keynote presentation at the annual gathering for the global TV industry in Cannes, France. She took the opportunity to highlight a banner year for National Geographic and discuss the network’s scripted-programming strategy.

A transformational journey

Courteney reflected on the journey National Geographic embarked on two years ago to elevate its content and said last week’s screening of the network’s documentary about renown primatologist Jane Goodall “Jane” at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was a realization that its transformation is taking hold.

“From peak competition to rapidly evolving distribution, there is simply no way to survive without being exceptional,” Courteney said.

National Geographic’s ambitious focus on distinctive programming has already made a mark. In the past year alone, the network released its top three series of all time: “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” “MARS” and “Genius.”

Beyond television, National Geographic magazine earned its first ever Pulitzer nomination for its issue dedicated to the issue of gender, and the yellow border still boasts the biggest following in social media and reaches nearly three-quarters of a billion people each month through its extensive media portfolio.

“We’re demonstrating how you can take a revered, iconic brand and through innovation give it a completely modern and entertaining twist,” Courteney said. “The difference between brands that endure and those that decline is that one is busy living, while the other is simply obsessed with not dying.”

Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, delivering her keynote remarks at MIPCOM.

Photo credit: COSTI Moiceanu Photography

Why scripted programming?

In a world where more than 500 scripted TV series are premiering this year in the U.S. alone, it’s fair to wonder why National Geographic is focusing on scripted programming now. Courteney first emphasized that National Geographic has “zero ambitions” to become a fully scripted network. “We remain at our core a factual network that will continue to produce documentaries on globally urgent topics ranging from climate change, to the crisis in Syria, and even space exploration – as we do in our hybrid factual/scripted series ‘MARS,’ which returns for a second season this spring.”

However, as National Geographic continues its transformation into a leading destination for premium content, fully original scripted series should play a role on the network. “But the way in which we are approaching scripted is highly selected and curatorial,” Courteney said.

She explained the filter National Geographic uses in its approach to scripted programming, saying that the network looks for:

  • Distinctive, premium and globally appealing scripted programming
  • Drama that is “entertaining first and nutritious second”
  • Drama that is “resonant, muscular and urgent,” coming from the industry’s best creative minds
  • Drama that is fact-based and authentic

“Our vision is built on quality and distinctiveness and the belief that entertaining and smart are not mutually exclusive,” Courteney said.

National Geographic’s first ever original scripted series, “Genius,” illustrates what this vision can result in. Courteney shared that it was the most watched series in the network’s history, National Geographic’s single highest-performing show in non-linear, and generated 567 million social media impressions and 92 million video views.

“I hope you agree that when it comes scripted drama specifically, we have found our voice in the landscape with authentic, entertaining and powerful stories that resonate globally and live up to the promise and expectations of the National Geographic brand,” Courteney said.

Watch Courteney’s full keynote, as well as the keynote panel discussion featuring National Geographic’s scripted series “The State,” “The Long Road Home” and “Genius”: