Discovery schedules another live tightrope walk

Nik Wallenda is taking his high-wire act to Chicago for a tightrope walk to be televised this fall on Discovery, part of the network’s strategy to entice viewers with live events.

Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon area of Arizona last year reached more than 10 million viewers live on Discovery, an unusually big number for the cable network. The Chicago encore will probably take place in November, Discovery said Thursday.

“We wanted to make a shift from the natural — the Grand Canyon — to an urban environment,” said Eileen O’Neill, Discovery president. “Chicago is a place where Nik’s relatives have performed before. It just provides a number of interesting challenges for him.”

Discovery isn’t saying exactly where Wallenda will be skywalking in Chicago, saying it is still seeking a permit. The city is home to the 1,451-foot Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), the nation’s second-highest building. Discovery quoted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as saying the city is thrilled to be chosen.

Discovery this spring also plans a live telecast of California mountain climber Joby Ogwyn’s attempt to jump off the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, in a specially constructed wing suit. This fall, Discovery is organizing a 42-day “Survival Live” event where eight people compete to survive in a remote environment.

Looking further, Discovery and its sister Science Channel will chronicle the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition where privately funded teams try to land an unmanned craft on the moon and transmit live pictures back to Earth. A landing is expected sometime next year.

Live events have become particularly important to networks in recent years as they seek ways to draw large number of viewers away from DVRs and on-demand services to watch their programs (and commercials). Without contracts to show major sports events or award shows, Discovery has to create events.

“Obviously, they’re kind of a DVR-buster,” O’Neill said. “This compels you to be in a certain viewing position at a certain time.” That’s reflected in Discovery’s promotional approach to the Everest jump, as viewers will be asked, “Where will you be?”

Wallenda’s walk and the Everest jump will be televised on Discovery channels around the world, not just in the United States, she said.

Both the Everest jump and “Survival Live” will present challenges new to the network, if not TV itself. For one thing, Discovery cannot precisely schedule in advance when Ogwyn will make his jump, or even know for certain whether he can.

He’s climbed Everest twice, although that doesn’t necessarily guarantee he’ll make it a third time. Weather conditions limit Everest climbs to about a month each spring, and can delay or scuttle attempts even within that window of opportunity. Discovery is aiming for around May 11, and O’Neill estimated that organizers will have a 75 percent chance of being able to pinpoint a jump time five days in advance.

In the days leading up to the attempted jump, Discovery will air live shows beginning at midnight Eastern reporting on preparations by Ogwyn’s team.

Discovery has shown programs in the “Survival” genre before, but never in real time as it is planning this fall. During the event, Discovery will have one live show a week and another taped one summing up the week’s competition. Fans will be able to follow how their favorite competitors are doing online at all times.

Discovery hasn’t named the competitors yet, or said where they will be sent.

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