Scale a mountain in Asia, swim deep under the Pacific ocean, catch a sunset on the Savannah—thanks to a Disney+ content-buying spree, Nat Geo Kids is boldly adventuring to tackle these experiences.
When Disney unveiled its SVOD interface in April, National Geographic landed an unexpected category button on the streamer’s landing page. What’s more, Nat Geo Kids scored its own filter on the SVOD, prompting a race to fill the space.
This created a not insignificant hurdle for the former Fox channel—though Geoff Daniels, the EVP of unscripted entertainment at National Geographic, has a plan. While there isn’t a set number of hours or content quota to fill, he wants the industry to know its coffers are open.
Under the direction of recent hire Brenda Wooding, who will lead development for the entire kids slate, to meet the streamer’s vast on-demand needs, the nature-focused output will primarily pull from its own content shelves, which includes more than 100 books (such as the seven-book Explorer Academy series—more on that below) and 10 annual magazine issues.
But beyond its bookcase, Nat Geo Kids is looking for long-form TV series for kids six to 12. That content can be animated, live action, game shows, or competition series—it wants it all. The brand has typically focused on unscripted content, particularly in the adult space; but that is not a limitation for the kids outfit.
“The programming we’re looking for is going to be brainy, fun, fact-filled, inspiring and will really amplify and grow Nat Geo’s mission,” says Daniels. “It’s an opportunity for us to continue to ramp up across a number of our pillars like animals in nature, exploration and adventure, science and innovation, world culture—all grounded in the fact-based world we live in.”
Daniels confirms the already produced series Weird But True will launch its second season on Disney+ in November, and will lead the category’s efforts. As Nat Geo Kids’ first foray into long-form content, the 13 x 30-minute show puts siblings Charlie and Kirby front and center as they explore the fun, strange and surprising ways the world works.
The streamer’s launch also gave the traditionally non-fiction producer an opportunity to delve into fact-based fiction with Explorer Academy, which is being developed into a series from a Nat Geo Kids Publishing book series of the same name. Still early in the development cycle, there are no firm plans yet for a launch date, episode length or run time.
Nat Geo is uniquely positioned to take on the topic of climate change, as many producers continue to struggle with how to address it, Daniels says. Since his kids team has tackled the issue in publishing before, they know that children want to help the earth and are building that mission into content.
“Explorer Academy is inspired by the work our explorers do, and all the new technologies coming online [that allow kids] to create a meaningful impact on the planet, rooted in conservation they can do,” says Daniels. “I think it really encapsulates the spirit of adventure and exploration that National Geographic stands for. We’re going to continue to mine that line.”
Even though it’s considering scripted, there are a few types of pitches Daniels and Wooding are shying away from, including pure fantasy, science fiction and comedy series. These genres are pretty well covered by the rest of the industry, and there isn’t much Nat Geo Kids could offer that would be new or different, he says.
As the vertical builds up its library and prepares for a future focused on Disney+, the producer is also turning its attention to linear. It currently has branded channels in Latin America and the Middle East, and Daniels hopes to expand that presence to even more regions.
“Right now, Nat Geo Kids reaches 260 million kids globally,” he says. “I think we’re looking at where those opportunities are, [so we can] continue to roll out Nat Geo Kids and the content we’re building around the world. We are looking to ramp that up over the long haul.”