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Televisual genre report: specialist factual TV

With the annual Televisual Factual Festival soon to kick off next month (November 13-14), Pippa Considine takes a look at how specialist factual has embraced live events and reality TV to massively broaden its audience. But is it losing touch with its rigorous science and history roots?

Specialist factual producers are increasingly turning to large scale, high volume ideas to keep the genre alive and kicking.

Event programming is now regularly adding pizazz to the schedule for broadcasters in the UK and internationally, with channels keen to get viewers to watch TV live. In the UK, Channel 4 took viewers round the world in a live space station special, with access granted by NASA. Two hour-long specials provided a build up to the live orbit, which were all coordinated by Arrow Media.

Discovery continues to build on live highlights such as Nik Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon. After Felix Baumgarten’s record-breaking space jump, the next stunt is another Wallenda high wire walk, this time between skyscrapers. According to Elizabeth McIntyre, vp production and development, factual for DNI, the broadcaster is very keen on “extraordinary, breath-taking activities or firsts that work well around the globe.”

At Pioneer Productions, they are developing a number of events-based ideas, both live and as live. But event programming isn’t for everyone. “It does take resources and it takes a lot of working through and there are very few slots,” says md Kirstie McLure. “You have to weigh up whether you have the skills to do it, whether it’s in your heartland and whether you’re going to be one of the ones who’s commissioned to do it.”

Wag TV is one indie that has decided not to pursue this line. “There’s a natural ceiling,” says Martin Durkin, md of Wag TV. “We’ve stopped chasing them as there aren’t many of them. They never seem to be as successful as they might be and they’re not big revenue earners for us.”

Live events or stunts have some severe limitations. As one-offs they need to have a big PR build up to get noticed in the schedules, they’re risky and often very expensive. Discovery’s experience on Everest in April is a case in point. As the production team was about to embark on a climb before wingsuit jumper Joby Ogwyn could leap off the world’s tallest mountain, there was an avalanche that killed 12 sherpas. The network aired a special on the tragedy instead.

As live, rather than live, is one way ahead. “It’s definitely an approach we are interested in doing more of,” says C4 head of specialist factual David Glover. “Live can be great too – but I guess it needs a degree of justification.” David Dugan is CEO at Windfall Films, which was behind Foxes Live and Easter Eggs Live for C4. He is well aware of the need for back up plans in case nothing much happens. “If the eggs aren’t hatching or the fox cubs don’t come out to play…it’s always a bit nail biting,” he says. “Sometimes the BBC, for example, prefers the aura of being live without being live, because with things like natural history it’s actually quite hard to do.”

Hardcore factual
Windfall also produced BBC2’s series on Crossrail, the Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, which aired earlier this year with good ratings. “It showed there is still an audience for those kind of pretty hardcore specialist factual shows,” says Dugan. The show had plenty of scale and jeopardy: footage of drilling tunnels within inches of another subway line, as well as the sheer size and profile of project in the UK.

With specialist factual ideas often requiring scale and size, this genre is increasingly difficult for smaller indies. Deep development pockets are invariably required, and to make money in the genre you need to think of big budget or high volume productions, so the bar to entry is getting higher.

Co-production is still a healthy way of getting bigger specialist factual ideas off the ground. Lilla Hurst and Ben Barrett are co-founders of Drive, which helps producers to find finance. They confirm the consistent need for broadcasters to have a big reason to put up money: “Big subjects that resonate internationally,” says Hurst; “something new, or an anniversary or exclusive access.”

Dan Chambers, co-founder of Blink Films, says he will always look for the big reason why. “What’s the big revelation?…Is there something that could involve a build, an excavation or a dig.” Digging or building has been a popular way of giving a specialist factual show momentum. But not just any old digging or building. Blink’s most recent project – The Real Noah’s Ark – saw it construct an Ark based on a 4,000 year-old tablet deciphered by an expert on ancient Babylon. Stitching together the £1.4m to construct it required almost the same effort as raising the Ark itself. Over 18 months, Blink found 13 broadcasters to invest, including C4 which ran the show in its Secret History strand. C4 was joined by PBS in the US, History in Canada, France 5 and NGCI. Drive helped to gather together sufficient European broadcast interest to then tap into European Union funding. “More and more companies are open to co-productions,” says Chambers, who has just co-produced with Brazil and Korea and regularly works with Canada. “That’s definitely been a change over the last five years.” Hurst and Barrett have also noted a blurring between co-production and pre-sales; backers of a project tend to be viewed more as partners.

Whether they have co-production money or not, new territories are opening up to producers. Pioneer recently made a two-hour documentary, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain. “We’re taking concepts to completely different territories which are opening up and giving us a whole new scope for filming,” says McLure who is also planning shows in a number of hitherto largely impenetrable Asian countries.

All eyes on America
But the daddy of international specialist factual production for UK producers is still the US. There haven’t been any major changes in the US factual TV landscape in the last year, but there’s widespread reports that channels are re-examining their identities. Hurst says that while Nat Geo isn’t about to abandon its drive towards factual entertainment, it is commissioning a large volume of one-off specials. Other producers report a bigger interest in ideas other than reality shows.

Elizabeth McIntyre has been moving the commissioning brief for DNI away from bellies and beards. “Alongside the heartland practical, survival and engineering problem-solving which form the natural jeopardy of our narrative arcs, we wanted to introduce some personal and moral dilemmas into Discovery Channel programming,” she says. “We’ve been experimenting with tones traditionally found in female programming – personal stories, relationships and emotions but for male subjects - and we’ve found this to be a winning combination.” She cites Extreme Car Hoarders from Nerd TV and Discovery Studios, which reveals personal dilemmas around selling much-loved cars.

A+E’s History in the UK runs 50% of the broadcaster’s US content, but has  had success with the battle of Bannockburn told in a graphic novel style, a Martians take on World War I and Shaun Ryder on UFOs. Like all channels commissioning specialist factual, History is keen to find the right personality or celebrity to bring a subject to life. Channel editor Rachel Job says: “Unfortunately history has been given this academic label when it doesn’t need to be. I hope as a channel we’re proving that it doesn’t have to be stuffy and academic.”

The commercial channels are definitely doing their best to be anything other than stuffy and academic. As well as reality shows and celebrity-fronted formats, especially in the world of survival and adventure, there have been some big hits with popular formats, often inspired by huge numbers for YouTube videos. Discovery has scored with archive based shows You Have Been Warned from October Films and What Happened Next from Twofour.

Wag TV is behind How Do They Do It?, a popular science/ engineering format which has found a big audience on Discovery’s Science channel. “It’s about industrial engineering,” says Durkin at Wag TV. “There’s a whole load of science in there but it hasn’t got its head up its own arse…You’d never have it discussed at the World Congress of Science. It’s not even deemed to be specialist factual because working class people watch it.”

Public service players
There are no signs that the public service broadcasters are in a mad rush to follow the commercial channels wholesale into a diet rich in pop science, clip shows and reality. But with the ongoing pressure to reach bigger audiences, most specialist factual commissioners would bristle at Durkin’s accusation that “specialist factual in the minds of too many people at C4 and the BBC are the things that they and their friends watch.”

At the BBC, indies are still being encouraged to merge subjects and genres. There’s been success with factual dramas, one of the more recent being Hero Productions’ Castles in the Sky, starring Eddie Izzard as radar genius Robert Watson-Watt. Living history is always of interest, in the school of Lion’s enduringly successful Farm series, as is exciting access.

And the channels are always, of course, on the look out for passionate experts to add to their specialist factual output  – think Liz Bonnin, Michael Scott, Dominic Sandbrook on the BBC or Guy Martin, Jimmy Docherty on C4.

Too much reality?
Specialist factual has been bitten by reality TV bug

Schedules on the major international factual channels are now anchored by high-rating reality TV shows. Gold Rush and Pawn Stars are jewels in the crown for Discovery and History. Turner’s Tru-TV, just launched in the UK, is also a big fan of reality shows.

But are they really specialist factual? “Channels in the US that used to do specialist factual now seem to do constructed reality shows about rednecks in swamps. It’s barely recognisable as specialist factual,” says David Glover, head of specialist factual at Channel 4.

It does, of course, depend on the specific show. Martin Durkin, md at Wag TV, cites Combat Dealers which it makes for Discovery – the series follows people who trade in military memorabilia. “It has huge amounts of history in it,” he says.

Railroad Alaska on Discovery’s Destination America channel isn’t a reality show as such, but it gets close: “On one level it’s about how you keep a railroad alive through the winter,” says David Dugan CEO of production company Windfall Films. “But you also get the weirdest characters  – they are their own subculture and very fascinating.”

While there is certainly still demand for new realities, there are signs of a renewed interest in specialist factual of other sorts from the US factual behemoths, with a number of British producers reporting an increased interest in things that aren’t reality series, as long as there’s a lighter touch to the production.

Animals act human
Broadcasters are wild about anthropomorphism

Animals acting like humans is now big business in factual TV. This year’s Wildscreen Film Festival has identified the growing trend and is organising a session around the topic of animal intelligence and relationships with people, to be led by Clare Birks, md at Oxford Scientific Films.

OSF’s Meerkat Manor (most recently on C5) was a forerunner and the production company has recently developed programming around the online fever for video where animals act in eerily familiar ways. Birks says there’s plenty of new science to underpin footage of animals apparently experiencing emotions formerly thought to be exclusively human.

“As natural history makers we could be producing classic behavioural films where the audience is now smaller all the time, but what we have to do is to be a lot more creative and explore what’s out there.” If 70m people watch a short film about the honey badger acting like a tearaway on YouTube, then it’s no surprise that it gets a good audience on BBC2.

OSF’s head of development Peter Collins worked on Animal Odd Couples, a hit for BBC1, and has moved onto other ideas to do with bonds between animals and people. The trend goes right to the top: BBC1’s new wildlife blockbuster Life Story (see page 8) is piping the same tune, following animals through critical stages in their lives, seeing how they use their tenacity and resilience to rise to challenges.

Posted 15 October 2014 by Pippa Considine

The Documentary Genre Report

With the Televisual Factual Festival fast approaching, Pippa Considine takes a look at documentary and finds a genre where broadcasters increasingly want ‘noisy’ docs with entertainment values that stand out in the schedules.

It is no longer enough just to make serious documentary. Entertainment is as much the job of a documentary filmmaker as it is for a drama producer. Making enough noise to attract an audience is as critical as finding an authentic story.

Producers associated with the most serious of documentaries acknowledge the importance of appeal. “You can’t just go into a pitch and say we’ve got access,” says Fiona Stourton  creative director at Ten Alps TV. “Every broadcaster is saying will it be noisy, how will it be noisy, will it be noticed?”

Ten Alps TV is the umbrella for Films of Record, Brook Lapping and Blakeway, some of the most respected documentary making labels. Facing the future, the company has broadened its range - alongside Norma Percy’s renowned current affairs documentaries, the company has made successful inroads internationally and its slate now includes volume programming, such as C5’s Benidorm ER.

If you’re going to put a foot in the commissioner’s door and keep it there, it’s more important than ever to have an idea of what the broadcasters are looking for. But it’s also perhaps easier than ever. “Factual television is increasingly like watching eight year old boys play football,” says John Willis, ceo of Mentorn Media. “They don’t keep their positions, everyone just chases the ball and so you get a scrum of kids around the ball …Once a couple of access docs do really well, suddenly there’s 20 of them. If a series about benefits does well, suddenly there’s 20 of those.”

This year’s stand-out series Benefits Street led to a C5 debate show, featuring characters from the C4 series. C4 has commissioned a follow up, Immigration Street, while C5 has ordered a series from the Garden on the culturally diverse community of Cheetham Hill. BBC2 has its own ‘riposte’ to Benefits Street lined up, in the shape of Family Saga.

Although there have been some small victories for new iterations in docs in recent years, the genre is crying out for something to move it on. “There’s a need for innovation,” says Jes Wilkins, head of programmes at Firecracker, who believes that we’re in a moment of rigs and ob docs. “What comes next is the question that occupies our conversations.”

Bolstering BBC docs
This is undoubtedly a central question for Emma Willis, head of BBC documentaries. Docs on BBC1 need bolstering; BBC Productions’ six-part ob doc on the Metropolitan Police and Wild Pictures’ access doc on KFC are coming soon. “We will always be looking for observational documentaries,” says Willis. “But as all the broadcasters enter this territory the bar will be that much higher at the BBC. It needs to feel extremely privileged access and we want to move away from institutions to find the precincts without walls where we can find a more raw and less mediated slice of modern Britain.”

On BBC2 Willis is on a mission to be bolder. Minnow Films’ upcoming documentary follows the sexual crime unit of Greater Manchester Police; a single film, directed by Vanessa Engle, tackles domestic violence. On a lighter note, The Garden is making a four-parter on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai and an ob doc on Tatler for 2015. “We are also keen to reinvent formats as another way of interrogating modern Britain,” adds Willis. “Formats that absolutely have that key documentary sensibility of character and narrative but that raise the game.”

What’s next at C4?
C4’s Murder Trial was widely admired by documentary makers, after Windfall Films gained access to a complete UK murder trial for the first time. C4 has taken a few risks recently. It went ahead with  Gogglebox after poor ratings for the first shows. This year it has attempted to move the rig show forward with a digital rig set-up for ob doc, The Secret Life of Students from Raw TV.

After C4’s success with crew-turned-cast for its Bear Grylls series The Island, head of docs Nick Mirsky is looking to try out film-makers in front of the camera. “I do think we are sometimes in worlds in which an immersive documentary maker could help make a story come alive,” says Mirsky, who worked with Louis Theroux on BBC2. “I would like to think we had a small number of on screen documentary makers to whom we could turn for this kind of film, and we have some plans to see if we can develop those filmmakers.”

Digital opportunities
2014 has seen some new opportunities for documentary makers opening up, while other doors have closed. The cuts at BBC3 and plans to take it online will have an immediate effect. As well as its Fresh strand for new film-making talent, BBC3 has produced a range of powerful documentary, finding new and diverse voices.

Digital channels in the UK have boosted their budgets for original commissioning, with the latest figures showing annual spend up to £597m on first-run programming. As well as producing for ITV and C5, Title Role Productions has made a number of shows for A+E’s Crime and Investigation channel in the UK and has sold shows to Netflix. Md Helen Tongue believes that there are increasing opportunities with new digital platforms: “I think they are demanding more and they’ve got budgets as well. Gone are the days when it’s just a couple of channels that have budgets to spend.”

Another growing digital force in docs is Vice. Although the youth-skewing media phenomenon keeps much of its production in-house, its UK operation has been inviting film-makers to bring ideas for its Rule Britannia strand and is beginning to talk to indies about co-production. Vice head of development Max Gogarty says: “More and more we’re talking with freelance filmmakers and having early conversations with indie production companies to collaborate and co-produce doc content for Vice.”

Channel 5 creates a noise
C5 is commissioning more docs and is showing itself 
to be a master of creating noise, particularly with tabloid headlines. Although you’d be hard put to 
find a serious doc maker saying that they were making award-winning programming for Five, many of them are at it. The Garden, Century, Blakeway North, all have respectable series on the fifth channel. “They’re fantastic to work for,” says Brian Hill at Century.

Simon Raikes is commissioning editor for factual at C5. He believes that the channel has upped the ante for high quality, serious documentary; and it can pay a reasonable tariff by making the money work across the schedule. Ob doc commissions include GPs Behind Closed Doors or Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away. What he describes as ‘propositional’  shows include its Autopsy: Last Hours of… series. “Whatever the form – even for popular, less serious, docs (like She’s 78, He’s 39: Age Gap Love)  we are on a drive to lift production values,” says Raikes. “ The bar at C5 is getting higher.” The move seems to be paying off with ratings which are challenging C4 and BBC2. Several docs have topped two million, including the series Autopsy, OAPs Behaving Badly and Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away.

Going global
Demand from the US for UK docs is still riding high. The US market now accounts for a greater share of British TV exports than ever—up 50% since 2007, to make up almost half, or £475m, of all export revenue last year, according to Pact. A number of British production companies – like Raw TV, Studio Lambert, Blink and Firecracker – now earn some 50% of their revenues from the US market.

China is also looking more possible, after a number of UK production companies have made inroads. Ten Alps has been working on The Secrets of Branding for CCTV 2 through Blakeway. The commission has involved shoots around the world and a two-year schedule, with the broadcaster keen to learn from experienced UK hands. But the reality of how much foreign production China is looking for in the future is another matter. “Whether they long term will want to commission from us I don’t know, I doubt it,” says Stourton. “But once trust is built hopefully they will be interested in co-productions.”

A question of trust
And so much in docs is based on trust. But this is one area where some producers feel that there are cracks developing with audiences. Time pressures and tough budgets have led to producers massaging the truth and contributors claiming that they’ve been badly treated by TV companies. This climate makes it harder to recruit contributors. C5 show Blinging up Baby suffered from the fall-out after Benefits Street aired, with potential contributors scared off. Stourton says lower budgets can lead to less time in the field. “Sometimes people are encouraged to make it more exciting or dramatic than it actually was because they haven’t had the time to get those moments.”

All this leads to more hoops for doc makers to climb through in order to get access. It’s unlikely we’ll see an ob doc like The Royal Opera House. That said, persistence and negotiation skills keep the ball rolling with access docs. Educating Yorkshire, for example, captured the public imagination. “It is still fantastic that an Asian boy in a Yorkshire comprehensive school overcoming a stammer seems to grip a large slice of the nation,” says Willis. “It shows the power of documentary, the power of surprise.”

Presenter problem?
Broadcasters are edging presenters out of docs
The words authentic and experiential have been bandied about liberally by TV people 
in the last few years. As broadcasters strive for a direct approach, where viewers feel involved in the programming, one of the side effects has been the edging out of the presenter.

Documentaries that don’t have a human mediator are in the ascendant. The rise of obdocs and rig shows is testament to this, but it holds true for other types of documentary. When Secret History of Our Streets was first commissioned, Century Films had to argue with the BBC for a presenter-less approach. Century md Brian Hill says about presenters: “Personally I think they’re over-used and overpaid. Unless they really have a specialist knowledge I don’t think they add very much.”

Just a couple of years ago finding TV talent in the shape of the perfect front person seemed critical to the next factual programme idea. Now, it seems, the presenter represents a barrier to the subject; only presenters that can become one with their material are worth entertaining.

The BBC’s Emma Willis has said that celebrity presenters must be protagonists. At ITV, which is unlikely to give up its celebrity-fronted documentaries in a hurry, director of factual Richard Klein is focused on ITV faces, not just any old celeb, but someone that has a connection with the channel. At the Sheffield Documentary Festival, the direct approach was most clearly discussed among the arts commissioners. Rather than watch art, they are looking for shows where art is created. Arts presenters are the artists themselves, a la Grayson Perry - painting, filming and chiselling as they interview contributors.

Big indie, little indie
Doc producers ride the indie consolidation boom
The companies behind two of the highest profile documentaries of the last year- Benefits Street and Educating Yorkshire - have both become part of the latest round of indie consolidation. But how much will the latest wave of production company merger-making affect documentary makers in the UK?

BSkyB recently acquired Love, the producer of Benefits Street. Love has had an epic year – The Great British Bake Off is about to reappear on BBC1 and its series My Last Summer found a new way to tackle the subject of death. Meanwhile, Twofour, the makers of Educating Yorkshire and Royal Marines Commando School, now finds itself leading the growth strategy for Boom Pictures’ group of indies.

Apart from the spoils for the company owners, the obvious advantages to being part of a bigger group are to do with resources and development funding. But arguably this affects factual entertainment more than documentary, where formats and volume programming ideas need to be worked up to a point of greater sophistication before they can win any pitches.

The disadvantages? They certainly won’t get the encouragement that the BBC promises to reserve for smaller indies and that C4 also pledges for nascent production companies.

Perhaps it makes little difference. John Willis, ceo of Mentorn Media, says: “Documentaries are led not by companies but very often by individuals, by directors, passionate film makers who find their way forward even if working in small companies or their own companies or out of their front bedroom.”

Pippa Considine is the producer of Televisual’s Factual Festival (13-14 Nov -

Posted 10 September 2014 by Pippa Considine

Sheffield Doc/Fest: key commissioning themes

Several themes emerged from the commissioning panels at Sheffield Doc/Fest this week.

Firstly, there's a real demand for programming where there is minimal
construct, where the hand of the producer is as hidden as possible and the
narrative unpredictable.

Channel 4 series The Island with Bear Grylls is widely admired and Channel 4
head of factual entertainment Liam Humphreys is keen to see more shows where
the idea feels open and unmediated. Bringing the crew out from behind the
camera is also seen as an interesting way of keeping things raw.

As part of the same trend for unmediated factual shows, the current thinking is that presenters can get in the way of a good story. Although no-one is denying that presenters are fundamental to so much factual programming, BBC head of commissioning for arts Mark Bell felt moved to declare, "I'm not afraid of presenters."

The arts commissioners are all eager to see the creative process unfold on
screen (with the help of a bit of super sizing): "I'd rather see how
something happens than listen to how something happens," said director of
Sky Arts Phil Edgar-Jones. "Opening up the bonnet of the book, rather than
telling you what the book is about," said Mark Bell, referring to shows that bring
books to life, such as Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball.

Emma Willis, head of documentaries for BBC One, Two and Four, continues her
fashionably unfashionable call for new formats, spurred on by Channel 4 hit
Gogglebox. And Jo Clinton-Davis, ITV director of factual, made sure
that she didn't miss out: "something will come along that has a great deal
of artifice and construct and the pendulum will swing back."

Channel 4 confirmed that its specialist factual strategy is to focus on live
and event programming, such as the well-received Live from Space
extravaganza with NASA. "Inside Nature’s Giants we hoped would go on for
ever, but we ran out of big animals," said David Glover, head of specialist
factual, Channel 4, who is now providing a counterpoint to the big
documentary series on the channel.

BBC One, as ever, is on the hunt for shows with scale at 8 and 9pm. The
latest advice from the BBC to indies looking to pitch to the corporation is
to pretend that they are pitching to BBC One, says Willis. There’s a big
need for great ideas at eight and nine on BBC One, but producers are
overawed. So don’t be.

Posted 12 June 2014 by Pippa Considine

MipTV 2014: digital talk, traditional TV money

At Mip TV last week, the talk was all about new digital worlds, while the deals were for the most part still in traditional broadcast money.

For the first time, Mip showcased productions made by online studios in a series of Digital Fronts sessions. YouTube paraded its star talent, smaller online studios pushed digital shows and social media gurus advised how to make your audience big and sticky.

Meanwhile, the wheels of the great TV sales machine housed in the huge Palais des Festivals kept turning down linear tracks, with the odd digital detour.

Some delegates felt that this market was quieter than before. While Mipcom in October is felt to be more important, there’s also speculation that the
rise of January’s factual festival Realscreen in Washington as a market for the increasingly popular genre may have depleted interest a little from across the Atlantic. But there was the usual intense atmosphere in and around themarket.

China continued to grow its presence. ITV Studios announced sales of 500 hours of programming across China and Thailand, including a multi-year drama deal with China’s internet services giant Tencent. BBC Worldwide also agreed deals with Tencent and with Hong Kong’s fre-to-air broadcaster TVB, with factual being the biggest slice of the packages.

MipDoc, which took place on the weekend before the main market, had its own buzz. Amongst other presentations, delegates heard from National Geographic Channels International manager, global acquisitions Ben Noot, who buys for the core channel as well as female-skewing channel People, and was after action-packed factual shows. Andrea Harrick, director of acquisitions at
Canada’s Blue Ant Media, who acquires over 500 hours a year for eight channels, was looking for “history, paranormal, cryptozoology and natural disasters.”

The craze for unexplained phenomena is widespread, says Paul Heaney, md of TCB Media Rights, which was represented on Pact’s umbrella stand for producers and
distributors. “Every single pre buying broadcaster, when you cryptozoology says yes.”

Amongst a string of deals this Mip, Heaney has sold Arrow Media’s World’s Most Extreme and 747: The Jumbo Revolution to Channel 7 Australia. The recent Malaysian Airlines MH 370 disappearing jet has made people obsessed about planes.

34 companies were represented at the Pact stand this market. They included Barcroft Media, which runs YouTube’s number one emerging news channel. Ceo of Barcroft Media and Barcroft Productions Sam Barcroft was one of the UK online voices to be speaking from the UK during the Mip Digital Fronts programme.

Although there's still scepticism about the money to be had in the online world, all the big broadcast players are scrambling to identify what digital ground they can occupy, with a view to making, or at least keeping, profit. "Bosses are desperate to work out how to transfer to digital," says Barcroft.

In the here and now, Barcroft has also been talking with distributors about repackaging older titles. "The shelf life of titles is reducing dramatically," says Barcroft. Some content can be adapted to be given another life online.

The option for smaller companies to be based at the Pact stand is under threat, as UKTI government funding is likely to be redirected to larger companies in the creative sector. Sitting at a table surrounded by producers and distributors using the stand for meetings, Pact chief executive John McVay struck a warning note. He pointed out that many of the market’s national umbrella stands are fully funded; the UK only admits some funding, but this does make all the difference. “If it focuses support on mid-cap enterprises and ignores SMEs it will be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said.

The last word at Mip has to go to Shane Smith, co-founder of the rapidly growing Vice, which launched more content at Mip, aimed at generation Y and created by generation Y. Getting excited about upcoming Vice documentaries on how we are killing our planet, Smith received spontaneous applause from a Mip grand auditorium audience, normally sleepy and distracted by their phones. "Media can change the world,” he said. “Let's change the fucking world."

Posted 15 April 2014 by Pippa Considine

C4 backs Rupert Everett on sex and the digital rig

Channel 4 pushed the boat out on Tuesday night with its preview of the next iteration of factual shows for the channel.

A champagne-and-canapes reception, held at London's Serpentine Sackler Gallery, heralded deputy chief creative officer Ralph Lee's introduction of new programming, which he undoubtedly hopes will keep drawing audiences as big as those for drama. Lee described presenters James Rhodes, Grayson Perry and Rupert Everett as "powerul protagonists."

The next big campaigning series, significantly airing in the run up to the general election, is Fresh One's The Great Instrument Amnesty, a cross between Jamie's School Dinners and The Choir. Pianist and campaigning presenter James Rhodes declared his passion for the project, which he hopes will lead to more children playing an instrument, swearing as gutturally as violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy, or Gordon Ramsay. He then played on a Steinway, under the glamorous architecture of the Gallery, grabbing attention by performing a composition for the left hand only. Very Channel 4.

Keeping up the momentum with major rig shows, The Garden is following 24 Hours in A&E with 24 Hours in Custody, filmed in and around Luton Police station, including cells and interview rooms. The combination of rig and handheld footage in a volume series led to private speculation amongst producers mingling at the preview about the size of the budget.

The first ever digital rig doc, four-parter Freshers, got top billing, described as "revolutionary" TV. It will be interesting to see if spying on text conversations, emails and instagrams can make compelling viewing. But after Channel 4's triumph watching people watching telly - and in the hands of Raw TV - there's every possibility.

Studio Lambert's Gogglebox has slowly but surely become a jewel in the crown, the promotional showreel including a clip of Steph and Dom in an intimate clasp (not sure how they could have been glued to their TV sets at that angle...).

The channel has landed a coup with Rupert Everett investigating prostitution in the UK in Love for Sale, delivered by executive producer Neil Crombie and Swan TV, who are behind Grayson Perry's documentaries.

Perry plugged his two impending shows, sporting a to-the-floor rainbow Pierrot costume and protesting that he hoped that he remained a risk to the channel.

Perhaps significantly Ralph Lee referred to "our ability to back the unknown", rather than the usual language of risk taking. Either way chief creative officer Jay Hunt and chief executive David Abraham will be hoping that this next tranche of factual can deliver at every level.

Posted 03 April 2014 by Pippa Considine

A month in ratings: highs and lows

The Winter Olympics has doubled BBC Two's all-day share of the audience, beating ITV for two weekends running. The channel saw the audience peak at 3.9 million when Jenny Jones landed the first medal for the UK on snow and daily highlights shows have been pulling in ratings of around two to three million.
While this week’s Brit Awards found its lowest audience since going live in 2007, at an average of 4.6 million, it was a twitter hit, with over four million tweets. One Direction heart throb Harry Styles was retweeted over 150,000 times.
After some real drama ratings successes at the start of the year, the BBC has seen a bit of a dip in its drama ratings, though nothing to send commissioners rushing to their in-box.
The sunshine-drenched detective show Death in Paradise on Tuesday evenings has seen a dip in ratings from launch of over seven million, though it’s still well above the six million mark. And The Musketeers which launched in January with 7.4 million viewers has been recommissioned, despite a dip in ratings just over five million for subsequent episodes.
Channel 4’s much anticipated comedy drama Babylon launched at the start of this month with a Danny Boyle directed opener which attracted  1.9 viewers, up against BBC Two’s Dragon’s Den which found an audience of 2.9 million.
ITV Saturday night show Splash! is reportedly facing the axe after a peak of just 4.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the final on Saturday night, compared to a peak of 6.5 million for the first series. This year it has been up against The Voice, which has put in a strong ratings performance for BBC One.
Channel 4 documentary ratings hit Benefits Street bowed out on 4.5 million earlier this month. While Channel 5 tapped into the show’s success with a live debate on benefits which pulled in over two million viewers.

Channel 5 also had a nice fillip in ratings when Jim Davidson won Celebrity Big Brother at the end of January. The live show clocked an average audience of 3.2 million.

Posted 21 February 2014 by Pippa Considine

Vice accelerates into production

As the one-time wild child Vice Media grows and ages, it's expanding its online content operation and making inroads into mainstream TV and film. The latest move is a partnership with FremantleMedia to create a multi-channel food platform.

The youth media company, launched as a punk magazine in 1994, has also been bolstering its own production capabilities, which have previously been all about producing documentary content for its online channel, finding directing talent.

Vice recently hired Channel 4 documentary commissioner Lina Prestwood as executive producer and Max Gogarty as development producer, both reporting into head of video Al Brown.

In 2013 Vice saw broadcast success in the US with its HBO series, also called Vice, which has been recommissioned for a second series.

Vice has signed a deal with UK-based indie Pulse Films to co-produce US TV projects and, at the end of last year, it landed a commission from BBC Four to co-produce a documentary with Raw TV on the illicit online market for drugs and weapons.

The new food platform will see Vice and FremantleMedia develop and produce digital content, which FremantleMedia will take to TV around the world. It allows FremantleMedia to extend its production in the digital space and Vice gets to work with FremantleMedia’s network of experts in global television production and distribution.
"Today's youth are the driving force behind the food culture explosion, yet they remain totally underserved when it comes to original food programming," says Andrew Creighton, president of Vice Media. “The new Vice food channel will upend the culinary media landscape, producing more jaw-droppingly entertaining original multi-channel food programming than anywhere else and ensuring the content reaches a global audience on every screen. We're stoked to say the least."
Vice has already recorded strong viewership around its existing food programming, including such series as Munchies, featuring the industry’s leading chefs such as Danny Bowen, Michael White, and Anthony Bourdain, and Fresh Off The Boat, a look into culture-defining global food trends hosted by the restaurant owner and writer Eddie Huang.
The Vice food vertical will focus on subjects ranging from the politics of food, to world travel and cuisine, to an irreverent look at home cooking. Vice will collaborate with FremantleMedia North America's original digital production team led by Gayle Gilman, as well as the FremantleMedia production teams around the world; the venture aims to deliver hundreds of hours of content in the first year.
The name and URL for the food venture will be announced in due course. Content from the venture will be available on multiple platforms, including alongside its other verticals Noisey (music), Motherboard (technology), The Creators Project (art), i-D (fashion), Thump (electronic dance), Fightland (MMA), and the forthcoming news vertical, VICE News.

Longer-term ambitions include experiential activities such as festivals and tastings; mobile extensions such as apps and a ‘food locator’ concierge service; social activity including full Facebook integration and UGC reviews and contributions; and licensed merchandise.
FremantleMedia launched its digital and branded entertainment division in 2013 to extend its role as a TV creator, producer and distributor onto emerging digital platforms. The company alerady consistently attracts 72 million+ unique users every month* and 7 billion views (2013) to its content on YouTube. It recently announced an investment in the multi-channel network Divimove and a co-production deal with fashion and lifestyle brand MCN StyleHaul.

Posted 19 February 2014 by Pippa Considine

UKTV is doing a Google, creating funky new offices

UKTV is doing a Google, with new headquarters in Hammersmith, designed by the same outfit behind Google's legendary office space, to be ready for 250 lucky UKTV staff by July.

Digital giant Google is well known for having friendly, state-of-the-art offices, with employee togetherness and work-life harmonies built in, cafe latte and ergonomically smooth furniture alongside slick technology.

The move signals a confidence at the Scripps/ BBC Worldwide-owned broadcaster, a clear message that the growing broadcast operation wants to attract and inspire staff and tell suppliers that it's a company that works collaboratively, despite having smaller programming budgets than the bigger players.

'Imagine more' is UKTV's mantra, which will be music to the ears of Penson, the leading interior design and architecture studios that has been behind award-winning spaces for Jay-z’s ROCNation and London College of Fashion, as well as Google, (see pics above and below).

"Together the companies will tackle an ambitious brief to create a UKTV headquarters that is inspirational, distinctive and built for innovation," says UKTV chief executive, Darren Childs.

The promise-to-be-funky new office will be designed across 32,500 sq. ft. of an ecologically-recognised development at 10 Hammersmith Grove, London.  

Over three floors of the development, there will be sociable working spaces, a café-bar and outdoor terrace, studio facilities and a screening room. The building is highly sustainable: one of the first in London to be entirely lit by LED lights and powered by solar panels.

“10 Hammersmith Grove will be a ground-breaking facility for UKTV,” says  Childs. “The new development increases the size of our current office and gives us the opportunity to create an inspirational working space fit for a broadcaster with a commitment to technology, imagination and the future of media. Technology will be at the heart of our progressive new workspace, and it will give everyone at UKTV the freedom to work creatively and collaboratively.”

Sarah Nelson, UKTV’s facilities director, is overseeing the move and will be responsible for the new facility at 10 Hammersmith Grove.
Forward-funded by the SWIP Property Trust for £50 million, 10 Hammersmith Grove is the first of two office buildings in the centre of Hammersmith, next to the underground station. It includes 110,000 sq. ft. of office space as well as extensive public areas, including three restaurant units at ground level.
News of the move comes after a good year for UKTV, which saw the network announcing an increase to £110 million investment in programming.  In 2013 the broadcaster also achieved its highest ever SOCI (share of commercial impacts) growth for advertisers and its highest ever total audience share, according to BARB data.
UKTV’s network of 10 channels span both the free-to-air and pay TV space and are available through Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk, YouView, plus direct On Demand digital services. Within the last few weeks UKTV has extended its relationship with Sky, Virgin and YouView. UKTV’s full stable of channels are now available on Virgin TV Anywhere and its network of pay TV channels are available on Sky on Demand and Sky Go. In addition, last month saw seven day catch up services for Yesterday and Really join Dave on YouView.

Posted 19 February 2014 by Pippa Considine
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