The packed out Alternative Platforms commissioning session at Sheffield Doc/Fest got the low down on short form online commissioning from The Guardian¹s Charlie Phillips, Elliot Reed from BBC Three, Channel 4’s Jody Smith and Jennifer Byrne from the Dazed Group. Vice didn¹t make it. 

Top line messages included a loud and clear: this is not TV, catchy titles are crucial,  the pace needs to be relentless and the films need to hook people in straight away. With budgets, they are all paying roughly £1K per minute for short form. Most of the short form is between three and 15 minutes, with a lot at the bottom end of that scale. The audience is mainly millennials and the commissioners like to collaborate with suppliers. Some want all rights in perpetuity, others are happy with a window. A few traditional indies are working with volume commissions. 

Channel 4  – multiplatform and online video commissioning editor Jody Smith explained that one reason for the strategy of commissioning shorts for All 4 was the shift from watching shows in snippets on mobiles. So why not make films that run for five minutes? They are looking mostly for docs about youth culture and sub cultures, often commissioning in series. The plan is for an in house team to film news reactive films, while suppliers are a mix of established indies including Firecracker, Watershed and Twenty Twenty, as well as newer outfits. Films will run on the Channel 4 platform which aims to be a new advertising revenue stream for the broadcaster.  

BBC Three  – commissioning editor for features and formats and documentaries Elliot Reed said that there was still a lot to decide about the channel, which is due to go online in January, if a celebrity-backed outcry doesn¹t force a U-turn. That said, he confirmed that much of the commissioning  – around 80 % – will be long form, with a significant chunk left for shorts. This will include web discussions, blogs, games and short doc series; he pointed to Vice as a reference point. While the BBC3 budget is being halved, he argued that this is less concerning for original commissions as there wont be the same spend on acquisition or repeats. They are still negotiating about what rights they will want to acquire.

Guardian – head of documentaries Charlie Phillips is looking for globally resonant contemporary stories, ideally something that the audience hasnt seen or read about elsewhere. Not just serious social issue docs, we also want funny and intelligent. They plan to commission about 50 short films a year and are paying between one and 10k each. The initial strategy is to publish across a variety of platforms in order to build an audience for the Guardian brand. Hes not really thinking in terms of acquisitions.

Dazed Group – video commissioning editor Jennifer Byrne is commissioning around fashion and culture stories, with a lot of personal POV. She finds that film makers keen to be on Dazed & Confused will often invest their own money on top of what she can pay. They also publish across a variety of platforms, including Vimeo where their films are often included in the coveted Vimeo staff picks. They are flexible about rights, often claiming a window rather than blanket ownership. She will consider acquisition.










Pippa Considine

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