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How Much The Discovery Channel Makes During Shark Week

Shark Week

When you see menacing teeth and the gaping jaws of a giant great white shark, do not be alarmed. Remember that there is excellent money to be made from this animal. The shark tends to be a media cash register as well as a vicious menace of the seas. Shark Week, presented by the Discovery Channel, is a week-long television event that details the lives of sharks as well as shark-related movies and all things sharks.

Everyone would like to believe that it was three guys sitting at a hotel bar in the early days of The Discovery Channel who were boozing and brainstorming the next big item to help the young network take off at a time when The Discovery Channel was not a household name. Eventually someone blurts out, “Shark Week” or says, “Wouldn’t it be a huge hit if…” and the rest is history. Although this is partially true, there is more to the story than that.

In actuality, the idea for Shark Week was brought up during a non-executive brainstorming meeting in the office prior to the executive bar meeting.  In 1987, a 20-something go-getter joined the programming department at The Discovery Channel which was based out of Landover, Maryland in a big, ugly office building. At this time, The Discovery Channel was struggling to grab an audience in American homes. The channel showed a lot of documentary nature programming where popular reality shows like “Naked & Alone” and “American Chopper” were just a gleam in the eye of the executives.

Some believed that Discovery was going to be more like the National Geographic channel for mainstream television. The young 20-something was brought in for an office brainstorming session during one his first days on the job. Although the team was not desperate, there was a sense of urgency that the network needed to pick up more cable operators to stay alive. During the summer, most of the channels showed reruns from fall shows so this was a good opportunity for Discovery to make its mark.

During this brainstorming session, the team discussed gimmicks, ideas and stunts, all under a limited budget. Discovery needed to grab shows from the network’s inventory and could not afford a new show. At one point during the meeting, the newcomer sarcastically said, “Look, we know the bigger the animal, the bigger the ratings, if it can kill you, it is the best. Why can’t we air shark shows all summer?”

Although not meant as a serious idea, it was extremely well-received by the entire team. Discussion followed and while it had credence, the idea was certainly not considered a “Eureka!” moment. Later that evening, Discovery’s CEO and founder, John Hendricks had caught wind of the idea and the following day there was a major scramble for shark programming.

Great White Shark Opening Mouth

Shark Week Lineup

With every year being more successful than the previous, the number of shows and diversity have increased significantly. For more than a decade, Discovery has hired the most popular celebrities to appear or narrate certain shows during Shark Week. The 2016 lineup includes:

Air Jaws: Night Stalker

Narrated by Lena Headey from the Game of Thrones, Air Jaws: Night Stalker details how great white sharks can hunt in total darkness.

Deadlier Shark

Using innovative researching and historical evidence, Dr. Michael Domeier and Dr. Barry Bruce search for rare oceanic white tip sharks that have been called the “World’s Deadliest Sharks.”

Isle of Jaws

Award-winning shark cinematographer, Andy Casagrande, discovered that great whites have completely disappeared from the Neptune Islands located off the coast of South Australia. He searches for where the sharks may have disappeared to.

Jaws of the Deep

This show follows marine biologist Greg Skomal and the REMUS SharkCam team to find the world’s largest great white shark.

Jungle Shark

Two marine biologists travel up the Serena River nestled in the rainforests of Costa Rica to determine why young bull sharks swim up river and how they avoid the American crocodiles living in the dangerous rainforest waters.

Sharks vs. Dolphins: Face Off

This documentary details the relationship between sharks and dolphins. Sharks would prefer to eat dolphins or anything they can sink their teeth into. Dolphins prefer to swim with humans and eat smaller fish.


Famous shark expert and marine biologist Barbara Block has studied sharks off the coast of California for 27 years. With new camera technology she is providing scientists with an unseen domain called the “Blue Serengeti.”

Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer

New to the waters of the Pacific Northwest is the great white shark. Experts Ralph Collier and Brandon McMillian search for answers as to why they are traveling so far to the north and why they are focused on one specific location.

Shark Week 2

Shark Week Profits

The Discovery Channel is owned by Discovery Communications, Inc. and reported $6.3 billion from programming in 2015. The main source of revenue is advertising and distribution fees. The biggest money-making week is reported to be during Shark Week. In 2015, Shark Week ran from July 5th through July 12th and set a viewership record, helping The Discovery Channel have its best month in history. This also halted a viewership drop from other networks owned by Discovery Communications.

Shark Week 2015 attracted an average of 1.27 million viewers which broke the 2013 record of 1.20 million per program average. Shark Week has been so successful since 1988 that Discovery pronounced 2015 to be the “Summer of the Shark” by adding a new weekend addition in August. Discovery Channel daytime ratings jumped by 61-percent in July when compared to the previous year, most of which was due to Shark Week. With so many viewers during that one specific week, Shark Week must bring in at least $50 million for the network in advertising alone. Add in merchandise, DVD’s and apparel and the network is making an additional $10 million for a total of $60 million.

Shark Week brings the Discovery Channel their best ratings and highest viewership with the most advertising money made and merchandise sold. As it continues to be successful and popular, these amounts will increase significantly as long as the network continues to provide quality programming.


Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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