Televisual Factual Festival: Factual entertainment commissioners from the key channels outlined their top priorities at the Televisual Factual Festival today.


ITV’s head of factual entertainment Sue Murphy said that the broadcaster is a factual leader in subjects such as the royals, animals, crimes and prisons. “But we have too many one offs, too many short series that aren’t going anywhere. There are not enough returning formats, and there is not enough factual entertainment.”

She admitted that from the outside, ITV’s factual could seem ‘slightly timid, a bit too conservative and a bit too middling – and that doesn’t get you viewers.”

She said big factual entertainment returnable formats were a key priority at ITV, citing shows on rival channels such as The Apprentice, Gogglebox and Bake Off.

Murphy noted that ITV doesn’t have many competitive formats and that many of the big current competitive shows on rival channels are past their heyday or have peaked. A food competition format is a priority. “With Bake Off going [to C4], it feels like game on.”

Murphy also said that she wants to find reality shows that have scale, purpose and content.  She admitted she gone off reality shows full of young people going ‘yadda yadda and shagging’. Instead, she wants reality shows where people go on a journey, and do so for a reason. She cited Sugar Free Farm as one ITV show that had landed well recently.

Channel 4
Channel 4’s head of factual entertainment Kelly Webb-Lamb said she is after ‘the next turn of the wheel’ for C4 fact ent. “This morning’s news [about Donald Trump’s surprise election as US president] is part of that – it is important that shows are funny, provocative and ask questions. They do need to have meaning and say something.”

 “I would not want to commission something in fact ent about Brexit or Trump but we do need to think about what those things say about Britain.” She said this might mean commissioning aspirational shows that celebrate Britain. But it may also mean making programmes that are more ‘raw’, so they really get to what people’s lives are like in the UK.

She referred to past C4 hits such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and 18 Kids and Counting, with characters who are “extreme versions of who we are.” She asked: “What are the next places we can look at that say something about who we are.”

Kelly Webb-Lamb noted that there has been a lot of “survival, adrenalin-fuelled dangerous stuff” on C4. “The big question is where we go next. We want to look beyond survival. I feel like it is time to think about who we are and where we live and look a bit closer to home.”

She outlined a need for popular docs as a series, not just as one offs. She also said that Channel 4 wanted to explore how technology might be used to move on factual entertainment at the channel, just as the development of the rig had spawned shows such as 24 Hours in A&E.

The BBC’s acting head of formats and features Donna Clarke said that the departure of Bake Off as well as cost cutting at the corporation had opened new opportunities for factual producers. “We are really open for business – there are lots of slots,” she said.

On replacing Bake Off, she said: “The last thing we are going to do is to put another Mary Berry, Mel and Sue baking competition in there. We need to find something distinctive.”

BBC cuts mean that, “We are looking for more low cost returnables at 7pm so we can afford more expensive Arctic Live type shows at 9pm.”

She noted the wants new, hour long food formats that aren’t competitive. She said they need to be entertaining and viewers had to learn something as well.

However, she admitted that the BBC’s current on screen food talent is “a bit posh, a bit white and not particularly representative of everybody.”

Channel 5
Channel 5’s factual commissioning editor Emma Westcott’s said that the channel was looking for returnable formats at 9pm and 10pm. The latter is open to slightly more populist ideas, with a slight edge to them.

She said that C5 has moved away “a little bit from the shouty stuff, moving slightly more aspirational and younger.” She said the great thing about C5 is that its shows can be very straightforward. “We don’t have to be too clever by half and find C4 twists and make comments on society.”

She added that C5, under director of programmes Ben Frow, has focused more on ‘rewarding viewers and giving them what they want.”

In the year ahead, she said that C5 would be looking to take more risks with social experiments, live factual and formatted shows.

Sky non-scripted commissioning editor Bill Hobbins said the broadcaster was specifically looking for a long running returnable series to play at 9pm – “ a really nice, simple premise with changing characters each week.” He cited shows such as Faking It or First Dates, where viewers “know what they are going to get”

He stressed the importance of ‘funny factual’ to Sky, adding that ‘talent and access’ are key. “Sky viewers pay for their content, and expect top tier talent on the channel,” he said.

Tim Dams

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