For six consecutive nights this fall, 21st Century Fox’s National Geographic devoted its primetime television slate to programming that addressed the topic of climate change. Between Sunday, October 30, and Friday, November 4, 2016, viewers followed Leonardo DiCaprio across five continents to explore the effects of climate change on our communities in Before the Flood; they journeyed to India with David Letterman to understand the country’s energy challenges in the season premiere of Years of Living Dangerously; and they joined dozens of National Geographic Explorers for in-depth looks at ecosystems damaged by climate change in several thrilling nature documentaries. The weeklong broadcast event—dubbed “Earth Week“—was designed to both educate voters on climate change in the days before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and demonstrate National Geographic’s commitment to improving the world through science, exploration and storytelling. Earth Week aired in 171 countries and 45 languages. National Geographic simultaneously released educational resources about climate change for students and teachers, registered nearly 50,000 new voters in the U.S., and—with 21st Century Fox—donated $100,000 for environmental conservation efforts. The campaign signified not only the organization’s global reach but also its capacity to effect meaningful change on the world’s most pressing issues.
National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe announced Earth Week during the world premiere screening of the new season of Years of Living Dangerously at the American Museum of Natural History, an event that brought together more than 800 leaders from businesses, governments, and environmental nonprofits as part of New York City’s annual Climate Week. Monroe explained that National Geographic feels it is its duty to inform the public on scientific issues and spoke about how Earth Week aligns with the organization’s mission:
“Truly great storytelling connects with audiences profoundly. This is especially true when it explores themes that transcend our differences and reflect universal values, like the human connection to the planet,” Monroe said. “And on the important topic of climate change, National Geographic, given its reach and reputation, is in the unique and enviable position to tell stories with real potential to make a difference in the world. That is why we are making a public and passionate commitment to a full week of programming on this topic.”
National Geographic structured Earth Week to include global premieres of the new season of Years of Living Dangerously and a new installment of Life Below Zero, as well as some of the most spellbinding nature documentaries from the National Geographic archives, including America’s National Parks: Yellowstone, developed during the organization’s year-long celebration of national parks, and Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown, part of Nat Geo’s signature Explorer series.
At the heart of the Earth Week engagement campaign was Before the Flood, the documentary from Academy Award winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens. Throughout the film, DiCaprio speaks with local residents, top scientists, activists, and world leaders such as President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Indian political activist Sunita Narain, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Pope Francis, and more. Before the Flood premiered commercial-free on October 30 across National Geographic’s global television channels, and the company continued to make the film as widely available as possible, streaming it for free on a record number of digital platforms including Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, iTunes, and more, from October 30 until Election Day on November 8.
“In our minds, there is no more important story to tell, no more important issue facing our planet than that of climate change,” said Monroe. “At National Geographic, we believe in the power of storytelling to change the world, and this unprecedented release across digital and streaming platforms is not only a first for our network but also in our industry, underscoring how exceptional we think this film is and how passionate we are about it. We are committed to ensuring as many people as possible see this film as we head into U.S. elections.”
To that end, National Geographic partnered with Rock the Vote and theSkimm to host screenings of Before the Flood that doubled as voter registration events at more than 50 college campuses, with a goal to register 50,000 new voters. DiCaprio also took the film to the White House as part of the Obama Administration’s South by South Lawn event, leading a post-screening Q&A with President Obama and climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe. A red carpet event took place at UN Headquarters in New York City, convening more world leaders, including Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to discuss the effects of climate change and the possible solutions. Later, in November 2016, Before the Flood screened at the COP 22 UN Meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, the follow-up to last year’s COP 21, where the historic Paris Climate Accord was signed.
In addition, 21CF and National Geographic launched a social media campaign around the film to drive support for the conservation of endangered wildlife and ecosystems. For every use of the hashtag #BeforeTheFlood across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and of the Before the Flood custom Snapchat filter, from October 24 to November 18, 21CF and National Geographic together donated $1 to Pristine Seas and $1 to the Wildlife Conservation Society for a grand total of $100,000. National Geographic also assembled free online resources designed to empower viewers to take action once they watch the film. The #BeforeTheFlood campaign’s Take Action page contains information helping viewers contact their elected representatives, tips on how to reduce their own carbon footprints, and a toolkit for informing citizens and politicians about climate change.
National Geographic estimates that Before the Flood reached more than 60 million people worldwide and surpassed one billion minutes viewed across linear, digital, streaming and social platforms. 30 million people watched the documentary during its broadcast on National Geographic Channel in the U.S. and internationally, and another 30 million watched the film on YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter and more. These figures make Before the Flood the most watched National Geographic film ever and arguably one of the most watched documentaries in history.
The company’s partnership with Rock the Vote and the Skimm ensured an even larger audience for Before the Flood, making it available for free to more than 50,000 college students at campus screenings across the U.S. An additional 1,500 colleges, religious institutions and community organizations around the world contacted National Geographic to organize private screenings. The company still receives requests from educators to arrange screenings, and National Geographic Society’s educational materials about climate change, which tie back to Before the Flood and Years of Living Dangerously, continue to educate students of all ages around the world.
“For 128 years, National Geographic has been committed to preserving our planet,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Global Networks. “We are thrilled that we were able to reach so many people with Before the Flood and will continue to use every resource in our arsenal to educate the world on the global climate threats we face, and arm people with the resources and knowledge to take action.”