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SeaWorld Makes a Splash with 'Sea Rescue'

The theme-park giant launches a new transmedia division with their April 7th TV show debut.

SeaWorld San Diego, the first of the SeaWorld parks, opened in 1964 and was the brainchild of four UCLA fraternity brothers. Initially the park was intended to be “an ocean-themed restaurant with an underwater view,” but soon evolved into a much larger undertaking based on a commitment to “education, entertainment, research, and conservation.”

April 7th, SeaWorld premieres its first ever television show, Sea Rescue, in the family-friendly Litton’s Weekend Adventure Saturday morning block.  The show’s host is famously environmentally-concerned Sam Champion, the weatherman on ABC’s Good Morning America.  Sea Rescue is a series of vignettes featuring one of SeaWorld’s biggest initiatives: the rescue and stewardship of our planet’s marine animals.

SeaWorld is taking an enormous leap bridging into an entirely different, and equally costly branch of entertainment.  But entertaining is precisely what the company has been doing for half a century and this isn’t its first foray into the moving picture scene.

Five years ago, SeaWorld’s Saving A Species:  The Great Penguin Rescue took the Outstanding Children/Youth/Family Special Emmy at the 34th annual Daytime Emmy Awards.  In April of 2011, SeaWorld announced the formation of the SeaWorld Pictures movie division.  Its first release, Turtle: The Incredible Journey, a digitally-enhanced documentary that trails the loggerhead turtle’s journey through the perils of the Atlantic Ocean, hit theatres last year to positive reviews.

The SeaWorld franchise has a solid public identity with fifty years of experience in the development and maintenance of nine parks, as well as a well-sustained non-profit, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund (SWBGCF).  That sense-of-brand-self is precisely what allows the SeaWorld team to remain calm and poised at the breadth of such an enormous new venture.   Becca Bides, Director of Communications at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment says, “Nobody else does what we do.  We straddle these two worlds [of family entertainment and animal conservation and rescue].” 

SeaWorld’s bold attempt to extend their brand beyond theme parks into transmedia is the photo negative of another trusted family brand.  Decades after the birth of Mickey Mouse, and seated at the top of a motion picture and television empire, Walt Disney turned his attention towards creating a more interactive, recreational entertainment experience for families.  In 1955, confident that this new venture would offer families an entertainment opportunity they could mutually enjoy, he opened Disneyland. 

We believed in our idea - a family park where parents and children could have fun- together,” read Disney’s words on the base of Blaine Gibson’s “Partners” statue at Disney World.

Scott Helmstedter, Chief Creative Officer of the new SeaWorld division and also a 14-year Walt Disney Company veteran, acknowledges this.  “They know their brand well,” he says, “I think there’s a parallel…We’re the same in essence in that they know their brand and so do we and they don’t stray and neither do we.”

When you’re in the business of entertainment, live performance and cross-platform pre-recorded media are really two sides of the same coin.

According to Helmstedter, “We haven’t been producing animated series or kids television per se, but we do tons of filming in our parks and we have our own internal DVDs and our [Emmy-winning] Saving A Species Series…so we have that knowledge base - we just haven’t done it in those platforms.” 

Executive Consultant for SeaWorld Eric Rollman states,  “We don’t have to do this.  The survival of SeaWorld isn’t contingent on this.  Whereas production companies who are out there making content - they have to make projects - we have the luxury of doing things that are right when the time is right.  So we are going to be very selective, we’re going to be very careful, we’re going to vet it thoroughly but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be wide open to every idea that comes in here that’s remotely in the right area.  That’s a real advantage.” 

Another advantage, of course, is that SeaWorld has had fifty years to build an audience and grow and cater to a fan base.  They are a trusted brand for families and they know what those families want to see and experience.

“You can’t create an opportunity like this,” Rollman adds.  “Money can’t create this, it’s incredibly rare.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.  A lot of times you’re doing brand-building or brand-saving.  We’re not doing anything here.  Let’s branch out, let’s open our eyes.”

SeaWorld is interested in seeing brand-appropriate properties in any form:  Animation, Live-Action, Features, Shorts, Series, Game Show Content, Gaming, and Publishing. 

Helmstedter sums up the programming goal as two-fold: “Through entertainment, if we can inspire and get people to care about the world we share - that’s great.  And that’s kind of our underlying foundation,” he says.  “A whole other layer is consumer products - to develop a property that we can extend onto multiple platforms - that’s the ideal transmedia experience.”

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Serious pitch inquiries should be sent to SeaWorldKids@seaworld.com.  Pitching guidelines will be sent upon the receipt of an inquiry.

Check your local ABC affiliate listings for more information about Sea Rescue.

SeaWorld photos used with permission by SeaWorld.  Disney photo used with permission by Shaun & Dawn Chittick.

Linda Beck lives in NYC, works at Nickelodeon, and is the President of ASIFA-East.

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