Report for MIP-TV – Channel 4: Raging Successes on C4

Channel 4 1998 ratings, January until press time...
April 1, 1998

Channel 4 1998 ratings, January until press time

Program/Prodco/Slot/Length/Audience (from C4)/Share

1. Raging Planet: ‘Blizzard’/Pioneer Productions/Saturday 7:00 p.m./60 3,873,000/16

2. Crash/Darlow Smith/Tuesday 9:00 p.m./60/3,757,000/15

3. Secret Lives: ‘Grace Kelly’ Psychology News/Monday 9:00 p.m./60/3,439,000 15

4. Pet Rescue/Bazal Productions/Wednesday 5:30 p.m./30/3,374,000/19

5. The Trouble With Money/Century Films/Tuesday 9:00 p.m./60/3,104,000/13

6. Cutting Edge: Rescue/Touch Productions/Tuesday 9:00 p.m./60/2,658,000/11

7. The Traitor King/Hart Ryan Productions/Thursday 8:00 p.m./60/2,504,000/10

8. Classic Plant/Uden Associates/Monday 8:30 p.m./30/2,400,000/9

9. Pet Photographer/N/A/Friday 5:15 p.m./10/2,307,000/16

10. TV Dinners/Ricochet Films/Wednesday 8:30 p.m./30/1,929,000/8

With three episodes making their way onto C4′s and Discovery’s charts, London-based Pioneer Productions’ Raging Planet series managed to capture a combined audience of almost nine-million viewers in the u.s. and u.k. Commissioned by Discovery, the 10 x 1 hours proved to be a natural hit with audiences on both continents.

Produced on a budget ranging between us$420,000 and $450,00 per episode, the series was a combination of archive material and new footage. As science and weather specialists, Pioneer has become adept at filming harsh climates, especially lightning storms and avalanches, but sometimes natural disasters just don’t happen when you want them to. For Raging Planet’s ‘Volcanoes’ espisode, Pioneer sent teams to Monserrat and Australia, but used archive footage from Hawaii. The episodes on tsunamis and earthquakes consisted almost completely of historical sequences, with new footage cut in to explain the science behind the disasters.

Stuart Carter, executive producer on Raging Planet and managing director of Pioneer, says part of the series success can be credited to the primal instincts of his viewers. ‘I think we are all affected by our own fragility and mortality, and weather and other natural disasters remind us of that. Some of them are never going to affect most of us, like volcanoes, but there are others which are ubiquitous to most of the world. I think everybody likes to be scared, because it reminds us of our existance and vibrance. It’s like taking a thrill ride. When you get off it, you think, ‘It’s great to be alive’.’ Note that the disastrous weather pattern most likely to affect viewers in their area received the highest ratings.

Carter is quick to point out that the thrill factor isn’t the only thing selling the shows, however. The science of weather, which is explained in each episode, plays a critical role. Viewers seem to have a facination with the details and minutiae provided by the series.

‘Blizzard’ did well on Channel 4 with a more mature audience. Aired Saturday at 7 p.m., against programs aimed mostly at teens and a family audience, half of its audience was over the age of 55. The demographic was split evenly between male and female viewers.

The top doc slots on C4 are Monday and Tuesday primetime (namely Cutting Edge, Equinox and Secret History), as well as early Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Compared to a regimented factual slot such as on tvo or Discovery, C4′s non-fiction appears to be placed helter-skelter in the schedule, but in actual fact, it’s not. ‘They’re where they are because they’ve worked in the past, and they carry on working for us,’ says Claire Grimmond, research manager at C4. Because its remit commits C4 to appealing to a wide audience, factual slots have to go to where the audiences are, whether that’s Saturday primetime (Raging Planet), or Wednesday during dinner (Pet Rescue). Pet Rescue, for example, is one of the few factual programs to run during a slot usually committed to children’s programming and soaps.

Pioneer Production on the Go

Pioneer has almost 40 hours in production now, which should begin to air over the next 18 months. Building on Planet’s success, Wild Weather is a 5 x 1 hour series which has been sold to Channel 4 and dci. Universe 2001, for tlc and C4, is a 4 x 1 hour series examining the state of cosmology at the turn of the millennium.

Also in the works is an episode for Channel 4′s Equinox strand. The hour argues against the impact theory of dinosaur extinction, favoring volcanism instead. The third season of tlc’s popular Extreme Machines is also being assembled, along with a number of one-offs.

Carter sees demand for Pioneer’s programming expanding at the turn of the century, thanks mainly to the niche-casters. ‘Science, in general – whether it’s the very populist stuff like Raging Planet or the harder stuff like Black Holes [another Pioneer production] – is now more accepted on television. It’s not seen as just science television anymore; it’s just documentary. It’s not as ghettoized as it used to be. Science has become the thing of the 90s and will continue to grow.’

Guide to Frontrunners:

-Ratings & Overview

-Discovery: Success with nautical disaster

-TVOntario: Size doesn’t matter (market, that is)

-Canal+: Non-fiction hits home first

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.