If you want a quick primer on the key trends in factual TV, look no further. Pippa Considine was at Sheffield Doc/Fest last week, and this is her round up of the key soundbites from all the top factual commissioners on stage.

– Channel 4 is making a big push on single docs, says head of docs at the channel Nick Mirsky. “Singles that feel properly authored or offer a particular view of the world.” Patrick Holland, head of documentary commissioning at the BBC agrees “there’s a real resurgence in singles…with a sense of authorship at their heart.”

– ITV, now under new management, is keen on entertainment/ factual mash-ups; Jo Clinton-Davis, director of factual at ITV, wants “mad, bad ideas” and is looking for the next I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. She talked about a new hybrid holiday/game show just commissioned.

– Warmth is still one of the key words when the commissioners are talking tone. “Warmth”, “heart”, “humour”, “honesty” and “relatable.” Not forgetting “drama.”

– With several shows on the theme of stripped-back-living already in the pipeline, Channel 4 says it has enough. Lucy Leveugle, factual commissioning editor at  C4 is looking for “play along TV” – ideas that pose the question “what would you do?”

– The smell of money is getting stronger. “We’re looking for returning series with aspirational tone,” says Ninder Billing, commissioning editor at Channel 5. Viewers are perhaps bored of watching people divest themselves of everything; the pendulum is swinging and we now want to see more of people accumulating. Think Anne Robinson on Britain’s Secret Spending Habits for the BBC, How the Other Half Live for Channel 5, or Channel 4’s more muted ob doc take on conspicuous consumption – Liberty of London.

– Channel 5 had its own session at DocFest to encourage indies to pitch and not to be put off by director of programmes Ben Frow’s legendary scariness. Cat Lewis, ceo of Nine Lives Media, (Holiday Love Rats, Age Gap Love), produced PACT Census figures showing that indies with a turnover of under £5m landed 1% of commissions from ITV, 4% from C4, 11% from the BBC and 15% from Channel 5. “I get a bigger strike rate of success with smaller companies,” says Frow. “Some of my biggest unsuccessful shows come from superindies.”

– “We’ve got to compete for a younger audience than might go to Netflix or watch on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean everyone in screen has to be young,” says Channel 4’s Mirsky. ITV gets traction from 16-34s with Trevor McDonald, while Channel 4’s First Dates sees some of its biggest audience feedback when it features oldies.

– “There’s a lot of true crime being pitched” says the BBC’s Holland, unsurprising given Netflix high profile international hit Making a Murderer and HBO’s The Jinx.

– Channel 4 v Channel 5 war almost broke out between the two channel reps at the factual entertainment session when Channel 4’s Lucy Leveugle and Ninder Billing from C5 got into a spat over derivative programming. “What do you want me to do? Wrestle her?” Billing asked the session chair Neil Smith from Betty.

– “We can genuinely accelerate a format across the world” says TLC commissioning editor Mark Procter. Now is the time for the UK roll-out of the network’s format Say Yes to the Dress and dating show Undressed, being made by RDF’s Fizz Productions.

– The BBC’s head of specialist factual Tom McDonald and Channel 5 commissioning editor Lucy Willis both played clips from their twin shows on the wives of Henry VIII.  “We’re very pleased that we got ours out first,” says Willis.

– Discovery is going big. “It’s all about the scale and delivering programming that other broadcasters can’t deliver,” says Ed Sayer, vp production and development, Discovery Networks International.

– Talent needs to go on a personal journey. A+E UK director of programming Rachel Job was chuffed with the father-son relationship on its new show with Ozzy Osbourne and his son Jack  – both self-proclaimed history nerds. Hollywood A-lister Idris Elba is making a show for Discovery still under wraps (there was a clip of Elba’s painful attempt at the martial art of breaking a board). “We’ve got him on an extraordinary journey,” says Discovery’s Ed Sayer. “The challenge is to make him relatable…try to unpack him as a person.”

– Sky announced its new obdoc on the Freemasons at a DocFest session on access. Another bastion of society opening its doors. But why? Clearly there were the broadcaster and producer credentials. But also, “their membership was declining and so they let us in,” said Sky senior commissioning editor Siobhan Mulholland.

Pippa Considine is the producer of Televisual’s Factual Festival

Pippa Considine

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