RealScreen Summit News in Brief

Ford exits Discovery Networks, RealScreen Summit sets attendance record, Willis calls for stronger PBS
February 7, 2003

John Ford, president of new media at Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery Networks U.S., issued his resignation February 6. He oversaw Discovery HD Theater, Discovery Interactive TV, and Discovery’s video-on-demand services. A successor has not yet been named, and sources said current operations will not be affected.

RealScreen Summit (February 4 to 7 in Washington, D.C., U.S.) attendance climbed to 776 from 18 countries, compared to 689 in 2002. Roughly 75% of attendees came from the U.S, 9% from Canada, 10% from Europe and roughly 4% from elsewhere. Further breaking down the figures, approximately 250 representatives from broadcasters were at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., where the event is held, and roughly 400 producers, with the balance made up of ancillary companies such as distributors and law firms. Roughly 50% of attendees were at the Summit for the first time, although many of the prodcos and networks are repeaters.

John Willis, the VP for national programming at Boston, U.S.-based pubcaster WGBH, threw down the gauntlet to attendees at the keynote address, ‘Docs: The Good, Bad and the Indifferent’, February 6. Cautiously optimistic, he said that ‘docs on death row’ has been the refrain for the past 10 years. He said the ‘McDocs’ aren’t as prevalent anywhere as they are in the U.S., and that Americans would be better served with a better funded Public Broadcasting Service. TV must give people what they want, but should also occasionally surprise them.

Michael Dingley, the senior VP of programming at HGTV, announced at the Summit that the lifestyle cablecaster wants pitches from independent producers. Dingley said the channel is keen to boost the number of externally generated ideas from roughly 20% now to as much as 80%. Noting that the channel is lowering the number of programs to boost the dollar amounts dedicated to each project, he also said the Scripps-owned channel is considering getting into coproductions. He said budgets range from US$10,000 to $21,000 per half-hour for daytime series, to $75,000 to $115,000 for primetime specials.

International coproduction consultant Louise Rosen of Boston, U.S pointed out that independent producers should sometimes consider preparing different budgets for different buyers to accommodate cultural differences in budgets. She added that independent producers overall tend to underbudget.

James Gibbons, VP of programming at Discovery Networks Asia, said during the ‘Programmer Showcase: Discovery Networks International’ that he is looking for programs from and about China, series or one-offs, and that he’s also interested in programming about Singapore.

Maha Productions’ Denis Poncet, producer of Oscar award-winning doc Murder on a Sunday Morning, revealed during a Q&A session that one of his projects in production is another court-room feature that has raised interest from the U.S. networks.

Vlad Wolynetz, director of development for AMC, said the channel is greenlighting experimental documentary projects – particularly docs with a specific point of view, social commentaries and political themes. AMC is looking for approximately 12 projects.

Nobu Isobe of the satellite & hi-vision broadcasting department at NHK noted that high-definition broadcasts have reached four million households in Japan.

Jan Pasquale, SVP of audience research at HBO, said women comprise 40% of the channel’s viewers who are 18 years and older. Seventeen percent of its adult audience is African-American.

Bryan Smith, executive VP of programming and production for National Geographic Channels International, said during ‘Programming Showcase: National Geographic’, February 6: ‘This is a dollars-for-ratings business; the more money we spend, the higher the ratings we expect.’ David Royle, senior VP production, says one-hour Nat Geo programs range from US$40,000 to $500,000.

Acknowledging that pitching to Discovery Travel Channel can be daunting, thanks to Discovery Communications’ complex submission process, Travel Channel VP of production and development Doug DePriest suggested offering new spins on ‘icon’ destinations such as the Grand Canyon in the U.S. and London, U.K.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.