Last updated: 09:03 AM ET, Wed September 16 2015

What Will Fox/NatGeo Mean For Lindblad?

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | September 15, 2015

What Will Fox/NatGeo Mean For Lindblad?

PHOTO: The National Geographic Orion, a co-branded vessel that sails as part of the partnership between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. (Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions)

The recently announced strategic venture between 21st Century Fox and National Geographic set off a wave of reaction. The social mediasphere was awash with speculation about what the partnership might mean for National Geographic, its message and indeed its integrity.

Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder and CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, which has a co-branding partnership and strategic alliance with National Geographic, says that the recently announced partnership will be good for National Geographic, for Lindblad and for the causes both companies support.

Lindblad’s opinion carries some weight. The conservation-oriented expedition operator has been in a strategic partnership with National Geographic for more than a decade.

The Lindblad-NatGeo Alliance

Lindblad Expeditions, an operator of ocean-based expeditions to exotic regions such as the north and south poles and the Galapagos, entered into a strategic alliance with The National Geographic Society in 2004.

The alliance is multi-faceted and was designed to maximize the collaborative possibilities between two organizations, which have parallel objectives in “science, exploration, education, conservation and disseminating geography,” according to Lindblad.

The partnership included the creation of an advisory board made up of National Geographic researchers, scientists and explorers and the top program developers from Lindblad, which work on developing collective initiatives for educational programs and technological innovations for both National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.

National Geographic photographers and researchers travel on Lindblad voyages, which provides them with the means to conduct research and also provides the opportunity for Lindblad’s guests to learn and benefit from interaction with National Geographic’s experts.

Also as part of the relationship, Lindblad’s ships are co-branded with both Lindblad and National Geographic logos.

Lindblad Speaks Out

TravelPulse asked Sven Lindblad for his insights into the latest partnership move by the National Geographic Society and what he thinks it means for the future of all the parties.

TravelPulse: How would you characterize the recently announced agreement between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox? What has happened?

Sven-Olof Lindblad: What happened is that this new enterprise, National Geographic Partners, takes the for-profit elements of National Geographic, which includes the magazines, the television channel, certain Web aspects and travel, and creates a totally separate entity from the National Geographic Society, which is the nonprofit side.

Basically National Geographic has been for ages an organization that has certain commercial activities that generate revenue in order to support the nonprofit side of the enterprise.

What’s happening now is that these two components are becoming distinct and separate. As a consequence, Fox paid the National Geographic Society $750 million. This is pending the deal being approved. It has to go through certain approval processes with regulatory bodies, but the deal as it is gives National Geographic Society $750 million towards their endowment, so it basically quadruples their endowment. Plus the National Geographic Society has a 27 percent stake in the commercial enterprise and Fox has a 73 percent stake. The revenues generated from the joint venture, the part that is National Geographic’s piece, flows into the Society to support the society’s work.

So National Geographic Society as a philanthropic institution will have significantly more resources to devote to science, exploration, conservation and education.

TP: Is there anything that National Geographic Society has to do for that?  

SL: No. National Geographic Society is a totally independent entity with its own board. It doesn’t answer to Fox in any way, shape or form.

TP: Lindblad Expeditions’ relationship with National Geographic is a branding relationship and a strategic partnership, not an owner relationship. How will this change affect Lindlbad?

SL: I think it will affect our relationship in that I believe now there will be an opportunity to broaden the exposure of our content, because not only are we a travel company but we produce enormous amounts of content in the form of photography, video and storytelling. So I think things on the for-profit side are going to be vastly broadened as a consequence of this partnership. I think we’ll be able to put much more of what we produce in content into a global machine, a vastly expanded global platform.

In terms of the conservation side, the Society side, we are deeply involved in conservation and education programs with National Geographic. For example we have a joint fund that distributes about $1.5 million a year in various ways. And I believe we will be able to do more as a result of NatGeo’s vastly increased resources as it relates to the Society.

TP: Where did your content go before this development?

SL: It’s ours as an enterprise, but quite a bit of it is being put out on various NatGeo media. They have a multitude of websites, related to news, science and travel, but I simply think that the opportunity to broaden that and have a much greater global effect will be considerable.

The thing that I think people forget, because a lot of people have reacted negatively to this partnership with Fox, is that National Geographic and Fox have had a relationship for 18 years with the National Geographic TV channel.

Those channels have been 70 percent owned by Fox and 30 percent by National Geographic. So they’ve had this relationship and that relationship has proven to be a good one and a valuable one. Not everybody agrees with all the programming on the National Geographic channels, obviously. There are always opinions around that.

But I do not believe for a second that Fox is going to negatively influence the National Geographic brand in terms of what it stands for. The people who say all of the sudden that Fox is going to use National Geographic as an anti-climate change platform, that’s just not going to happen.

But I do not believe for a second that Fox is going to negatively influence the National Geographic brand in terms of what it stands for. The people who say all of the sudden that Fox is going to use National Geographic as an anti-climate change platform -- that’s just not going to happen.

Twenty-first Century Fox is way more than Fox News and Murdoch. It’s a global conglomerate. Look at the Wall Street Journal. They bought the Wall Street Journal, and has the Wall Street Journal been taken back in a certain direction? I don’t think so. I think the Wall Street Journal has editorial integrity.

At the end of the day I don’t think the people at Fox are so stupid that they would risk debasing this brand. They know that one of the reasons National Geographic has been so successful is that it has not been an advocate. It has reported and communicated what is going out there in the world, and trying to do that on an unbiased basis.

I cannot see for two seconds Fox trying to use National Geographic to create a bias that would send reverberations throughout the media world. Somebody at Fox said, “We’re not going to turn gold into lead.”

TP: What changes do you see coming to your business; more opportunities, more resources, more platforms for your content?

SL: I think the commercial side will grow. The conservation and the education side will grow. And as far as I’m concerned those are good things.

I see it as an opportunity. I don’t see it through the lens so much of opportunity for ourselves, although I do believe it will be. But knowing what I know about National Geographic, and what I know about the challenges any media company faces these days, and particularly in view of the fact this ensures the protection of the nonprofit in very significant ways, I think this is a bold and intelligent and timely move on behalf of National Geographic.

There is no question that there are a lot of very emotional reactions to this. But reality is that this is a good opportunity. At the end of the day, having the communications arm of National Geographic strengthened through a partnership of this magnitude has got to be a good thing in terms of communicating about the world and all that’s in it.


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