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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 5th, 2013
06:40 PM ET

Why 'Shark Week' is so successful

It is a sleek and agile beast that has evolved over time to reach maximum effectiveness. It focuses on its target, and at least once every summer, it strikes millions of Americans with force.

It is Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," and for the 26th year, the channel proves there is big business behind the bite.

Over the years, "Shark Week" has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue for Discovery, and draws a younger, more affluent, and gender-balanced demographic to the channel for the week.

This year, Discovery ads banked on "Snuffy", a cute, fictional seal being returned to his home, only to be swallowed whole by a great white shark.

When CNN visited Discovery's headquarters in Maryland, a "Snuffy" prop was hanging proudly near Discovery's senior director of development Mike Sorensen, who was sitting on a shark-shaped couch.

"Snuffy has become this kind of icon out there, with over 5 million hits online," said Sorensen. "I think for us it's really continuing to grow this outside of a week of TV, and really embrace the audience desire to watch sharks."

This year, Discovery is diving even deeper into social media, chumming the waters of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube with links and promotions for "Shark Week" programming.

There are also cross promotions – Toms shoes is selling a limited edition series, giving $5 from each pair sold to Oceana, a conservation organization.

"People are out there having "Shark Week" parties, you know last week we heard about a drinking game," said Sorensen. "People actually plan their vacations around "Shark Week," and I think this year more than any other year, we kind of took everything into perspective and launched a much more robust campaign."

So what is all the fuss over fins?

Sure, sharks are scary – Speilberg taught viewers that lesson with 'Jaws.' And their very presence can make even the most ridiculous movies, like "Sharknado," a hit.

But what is it about 'Shark Week' that causes the elusive viewing public to sink its teeth, year after year, into Discovery's bait?

Is it this year's new 'shark cam,' which tracks and follows them through the depths? Or is it 'Shark After Dark,' the live late night show making its debut this year?

"There's so much about sharks we just don't know, so many mysteries still left to be solved, and I think that curiosity is what really fuels our shows that we make, I mean that's really the driver for us," said Sorensen.

Despite grabbing viewers with the blood-and-guts footage that many say demonize their cash cows, Discovery said conserving sharks is at the heart of the annual television event.

That and, well, ratings of course.

A former executive producer of "Shark Week" told CNN she thinks the program is such a smash because sharks are truly the last wild animal that can be almost anywhere. If you meet one off the beaches of Miami, or Santa Monica, or the Bahamas, they are the alpha predator, and somehow that is comforting, that the natural world still has something that can kick humans' butts. That notion, she theorizes, fills viewers with respect and awe, and that is why "Shark Week" is so successful.

"Shark Week" runs through Saturday on the Discovery Channel.

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