How Barb Williams will feed viewer interest in the Titanic anniversary


Global Television is about to premiere the four-part mini-series Titanic ahead of the 100th anniversary of the doomed ship’s sinking.

So Barb Williams, senior VP of content at Shaw Media, is looking to strike while the iron is hot by scheduling several Titanic-themed specials on the National Geographic Channel and History Television.

“When people get focused on something, they want a lot of it,” Williams tells Playback Daily, as she reveals one of her scheduling dictums.

As much as a network schedules primetime marathons of popular shows to feed an insatiable appetite, National Geographic Channel will recognize the Titanic anniversary with a week-long focus on the sinking of the ship.

That includes airings of Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron, Titanic: Case Closed, Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard and Rebuilding Titanic.

And History Television will mark the April 15 anniversary with an all-day schedule of Titanic-themed programming, to include the network premiere of Nazi Titanic airing at 7 p.m.

It’s a gamble, but one Williams believes is worth taking as interest in the Titanic grows to a climax.

“When people get into the frame of mind, they want to know anything and they want it all now when they are in the zone. So we load up the schedule to focus the mind while we have their attention,” she explains.

Back on Global Television, Williams is departing from the well-worn path of a simulcast of the Titanic mini-series as it airs over two nights on ABC on April 14 and 15.

Instead, Global will pre-release the British drawing-room soap over four consecutive Wednesdays from March 21, not least because the four Titanic episodes are told from the perspective of a different major character, whether a wealthy passenger, a cabin steward or a servant.

So each hour in effect starts from the beginning of the tragedy to tell an individual story from a different point of view, leaving no viewers to catch up on the previous episode’s narrative.

“Sometimes, despite the [simulcast] opportunity, we do what the Canadian audience wants, and do something distinct from the American networks, because we think it will work better for us,” Williams explains.

The dramatic sinking of the Titanic has managed to captivate the world for a century, so the top Shaw Media programmer believes the mini-series, penned by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, can sustain a Canadian audience for a month.

That’s also when the Titanic soap on Global Television — a co-production between Shaw Media, ABC and ITV — is wrapped around thematic programming on a host of other Shaw Media channels, including week-long coverage on Global National in the lead-up to the April 15 anniversary.

“This is a much bigger programming special, bigger than Global Television, as we look at the tragedy from a number of other perspectives,” Williams says.

“It’s a whole selection of different content, different shows on every network,” she adds, underlining the promise of Shaw Media and its varied channel offerings.