Buyer Profiles – Animal Planet Europe: While becoming more and more local, APE still deals with the ‘single check book’ in Bethesda

As established natural history broadcasters spread their word around the globe, and companies outside the traditional pack jump on the wild world bandwagon, RealScreen canvasses four decision-makers on what they want, what they need, and what they avoid......
August 1, 1998

As established natural history broadcasters spread their word around the globe, and companies outside the traditional pack jump on the wild world bandwagon, RealScreen canvasses four decision-makers on what they want, what they need, and what they avoid…

DCI/BBC joint venture Animal Planet Europe (APE) has recently celebrated its first anniversary. To date, it is available in 1.8 million homes throughout Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe and Benelux. The 18 hour-a-day schedule is managed from London, though it is yet to achieve distribution in the U.K.

In common with Animal Planet networks in the U.S., Latin America and Asia, the core program proposition on APE is ‘all animals, all the time.’ But, like all international network rollouts, buyers need to establish a balance between centrally-sourced product and locally-acquired shows.

The senior acquisitions manager for Discovery Networks Europe, Lucy Crosse, admits the way in which APE is programmed is complex. However, at a very basic level she says: ‘We tend to air more faction here than in the U.S., where there is more of an emphasis on fiction.’

Vet shows such as Emergency Vets (U.S.), Animal Hospital (U.K.) and Animal Doctors (Australia) are typical of the reality shows that ape seeks to acquire. ‘We have to think about the likely appeal of shows to the European audience,’ says Crosse – who makes the encouraging observation that 65% of U.K. cable subscribers own pets.

There are a number of ways programs get into the APE schedule – some of which are coordinated by the London team, and some of which are driven by DCI headquarters in Bethesda.

At the highest corporate level, DCI’s joint venture with the BBC is intended ultimately to feed international networks with programs made by the U.K. pubcaster’s Production Directorate. Crosse says this relationship will need to evolve further before its impact on APE is clear. However, she is adamant that independent producers and distributors are unlikely to be cut out of the loop. ‘We used to get worried calls from distributors asking if we would still need to work with them. But I think demand will be high. We are still out there looking for sources of quality programming.’

Aside from the BBC/DCI deal, Bethesda still has control of the look of its overseas networks. The fact that Animal Planet U.S. is in 40 million homes inevitably makes it a senior coproduction partner in any plans for originated films.

As original program concepts are developed with production partners, the non-U.S. AP networks are consulted as to whether particular productions might suit their market requirements.

‘We keep in close contact at the early stages,’ says Crosse. ‘We get treatments and put offers to DCI’s business affairs unit.’ Examples of programs financed in this way are Emergency Vets and Wildlife ER (both from U.S. producers) and Horse Tales (from Transatlantic Films in U.K.)

Straight acquisitions are also handled at a dual level. Crosse talks of a ‘single check book’ controlled by DCI’s business affairs unit which consults at a local level before negotiating on its behalf. It is at this level that mega-deals such as that between DCI and blue-chip natural history producer Survival are negotiated.

At the same time, however, Crosse and her team of three buyers also respond directly to the editorial needs as defined by London-based program planner Sonia Flanagan. Crosse will then source programs and negotiate their acquisition. ‘There are,’ she says, ‘no hard and fast rules except that we have to tailor the schedule to the European market.’

Currently most of Crosse’s program purchases come from the U.S., U.K. and Australia, though she recently picked up a series called Champions of the Wild from French distributor Europe Images (produced by Vancouver’s Omni Film).

Typical of her recent deals are natural history series Two Worlds from HIT Entertainment (U.K.); the bbc drama My Family and Other Animals; Woof! It’s a Dog’s Life and Woof! It’s a Guide to Dogs from wgbh (U.S.); Going Wild from producer Jeff Corwyn; and Human Nature, Wild Ones (Beyond Productions) and Birds of Australia from Geo Productions – both Australian based. APE has also dabbled in advertiser-supplied programming with the acquisition of Dogs with Dunbar from Spillers Foods.

NATPE, MIP-TV, MIPCOM and Wildscreen are important staging posts for her activities, though she stresses that the business is ongoing. Having worked with ITEL, TVNZ and now Discovery for a total of 16 years, she can boast a wide range of contacts ready to come to her with product at any point in the year.

Although natural history programming is generally perceived as going through a boom, Crosse stresses that APE is cushioned from inflation in prices by its broad remit. ‘A lot of programming is tied up in big deals which limit the availability of top quality programs,’ she says. ‘But wildlife is only one element of what we do on APE. We have quite a distinct niche.’

Crosse says ‘not everything is controlled from the centre’ and believes, as the channel matures, it will have greater control over its development at a local level. She points to two recent copros which didn’t involve the U.S. as examples. Zoo Stories was filmed at London Zoo, while Wildlife SOS was also broadcast by U.K. terrestrial Channel 5.

See also:

Buyer profiles -

Odyssée (pg. 32)

Disney (pg. 34)

National Geographic Australia (pg. 42)

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.