Approximately 400 members of the U.K.’s independent factual production community congregated in London on March 1 to find out what Discovery’s U.S. outlets are interested in for 2001/2002. The U.K. Producers Open Day is the evolution of last year’s half-day event that focused only on DCI’s regional nets. ‘That event went well, but people were asking how to get commissions from the American networks,’ explains Peter Weil, VP of programming for Discovery Networks, Europe. ‘The reality is, as with any network, for regional commissions the budgets are a bit more modest. But, the people who can best answer what the American networks are up to are the Americans themselves.’
According to Weil, the workshop was designed to help U.K. producers – who supply 20% of the output on Discovery’s U.S. networks – figure out the who, what, where and how of getting global commissions from Discovery. The itinerary reflected this and focused on offering information rather than providing opportunities for producers to meet execs from across the pond.
Created with the help of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT), the schedule consisted of panels organized such that execs from the various U.S. Discovery outlets took turns explaining the programming priorities of their channel. Clips demonstrating production values and editorial approach accompanied many of the presentations and for some, this was particularly valuable. Says Allen Scales, managing director of London-based prodco Imagicians, ‘For the first time, you had a window into what the American audience gets from their Discovery brands. We don’t see that here.’
Scales and Weil made note of panelists placing emphasis on entertaining programming. ‘The trick with Discovery,’ says Weil, ‘is finding exciting ways of luring the audience.’ But, Scales admits this isn’t as easy as it might sound: ‘The British are a bit more shy about making their programming entertaining. To be entertaining and worthy at the same time is very difficult.’
Questions inevitably fell to budgets and rights, but answers were deferred to the end of the day and a session titled ‘The Deal.’ ‘I think it was a clever way of getting people to stay on,’ jokes Scales. ‘When they came to ‘The Deal,’ most commissioners had gone and the London people were left to liaise with British producers over the question of money…I don’t think they wanted to draw attention to the type of budgets that exist in North America relative to [those] in the U.K. and Europe, because it’s like chalk and cheese. Discovery is very profitable in America and it’s [still] trying to establish itself in Europe.’