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Bering Sea Gold

Discovery Channel’s “Bering Sea Gold”, which begins its 8th season on February 1st, is one of several brawny, tough-guy reality shows set in the (shivering) State of Alaska. Indeed, we’ve covered at least half a dozen of them in this space, but the two most relevant to our current blog is “Deadliest Catch” (with its Bering Sea setting) and “Gold Rush” (with its allure of striking it rich.)

“Bering Sea Gold” follows various teams searching for gold where I never thought it could be found… in the ocean! Think about the dangers of that for a moment! A boat in ice cold waters with all sorts of cranky sluicing and dredging equipment set up on a bobbing platform. Then throw in the lucky person who has to jump into the frigid water to guide the entire operation! And all for what? If the team is lucky, a few flakes (or very small nuggets) of the yellow, shiny stuff.

So… my question is: Who in their right might would do this for a living? Several folks, apparently, including crusty, ol’ Steve Pomrenke and his son, Shawn. Steve is originally from Minnesota, a farm boy turned mechanic and then gold digger in Nome, Alaska. This guy is one of the most famous gold prospector in Nome, Alaska, and quite frankly one, big cuss of a father who drives his son (Shawn) mercilessly. There’s also Steve Kelly — a real sweetheart who (according to the show’s web site), “(broke) up his family… (stole) from his sons… (and is a) despicable lying cheat.” Don’t ask me how or why, but the guy has managed to maintain the loyalty of his sons even though Steve Kelly left their mom for a younger woman. Go figure.

In other words, “Bering Sea Gold” is not just about the drama of cold water prospecting on a wing-and-a-prayer… there’s also plenty of human drama magnified by the tension created by such a precarious way of life. That is what has sustained this show for several seasons, although it should be noted that “Bering Sea Gold” is no longer the outright ratings winner it once was. Part of the problem is that Discovery has thrown an awful lot of Alaskan-themed content at viewers over the years (hundreds of episodes and counting.) Add to that the slow but steady erosion of Live-TV viewing to all things digital, and it’s little wonder the show reached its nadir in calendar year 2016 with a record-low .68 U.S. household rating (which translates into a 1.10 share.) That said, DVR usage for “Bering Sea Gold” is quite pronounced, and when we look at Live+ 15-Day DVR activity, the rating rises almost 3-fold – a sure sign of continued viewer interest and engagement:

Cold Market Appeal

“Bering Sea Gold”, with its artic setting, appeals to cold-weather markets. Below is a list of the Top 25 DMAs ranked by household rating size through the first five episodes of Season Seven. Every single one of them are northern markets — several of them in the far north, including Juneau, Alaska, Burlington, Vermont and Bangor, Maine. These markets are not only chilly… they are also rural with a median market size of 164 (out of 210 DMAs.) Indeed, the very smallest market (Glendive, Montana #210) can be found in the Top 25 list below along with the highest rated market, Juneau, which is the 207th DMA:

Local Cable Advertising

Over the past two seasons (Six & Seven) in calendar year 2016, “Bering Sea Gold” attracted 90 local advertisers who ordered nearly 470+ spots across 43 Viamedia markets (~55% of Viamedia’s national footprint.) That comes to an average of over 5 spots per client. And on a per client basis, advertising demand grew 7% over the past two seasons due to an increase in 30-second units. (Source: B.I.G.SM database — Copyright © 2017 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved)

As we have seen with other burly men series (especially ones set in Alaska), the automotive category usually takes the lion’s share of local cable advertising, and “Bering Sea Gold” is no exception capturing early 60% of all investments. That figure is double what we normally see company-wide. Also over-represented is the Auto Aftermarket category with a 10% share:

On to Season Eight

According to Wikipedia, there’s an episode-by-episode tally of how much gold is hauled up by the competing teams, but I don’t think the final value (nor the competition) is what keeps viewers coming back to this show season after season. Rather, “Bering Sea Gold” dramatically captures men (and women) working in some of the harshest conditions imaginable to find what nature has so artfully hidden. It’s an old, American story (and dream) that has played out over our nation’s history — the freedom to stake out one’s own claim; take a chance… and strike it rich!

 Written by Jonathan Sims
VP Media Research, Viamedia