You tend to see and hear a lot about the filmmakers who create the programs we love, but what about the people who take a chance and offer them up to viewers through our TV screens? Broadcasters tend to be faceless entities and it’s rare that we get a glimpse of the personalities behind the companies. So, in order to rectify that, we’ve cherry picked a handful of acquisitions executives to reveal their inner workings and detail how they make the decisions they do, and what they’re looking for from producers approaching them for the first time. The general consensus might be a no-brainer – know something about the network before you pitch – but it seems to bear repeating. Heeding their advice could help producers deke out the competition.
Documentary acquisitions and programming
TV3, Televisió de Catalunya.
Two channels – 33 and 33 digital – which only air in Catalonia (Spain)
Slots she programs: About seven hours a day. Four hours in the morning in a slot called ‘Horizons,’ which includes archeology, travel, discovery and the environment. Two hours of nature and wildlife programming in the afternoon under the banner ‘Planet Earth,’ and in the evening she’s responsible for an hour of arts programming, featuring shows about architecture, literature, sculpture and cinema, mixed with some mythology, religion and history in a slot called ‘Canon.’
How much she buys: She estimates 1,500 factual hours per year, in hour and half-hour increments. All of the factual programming is done through straight acquisitions; no coproductions.
Advice for producers approaching her territory for the first time: ‘It’s a bit complicated because we are a bit special in this case. We only air in Catalonia. In Spain there are different autonomies, different local governments. We have our own language as well. So that means we don’t relate to the rest of the country where they air in Spanish.’ The target audience is the seven million people who live in Catalonia.
Advice for producers approaching her for the first time: Preminger acquires most of her programming at markets and screenings, but she suggests that producers approaching her for the first time should do so via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Favorite CD: Her favorite style of music is classical, so listening to Beethoven concerts is her bag at the moment.
UKTV Style, UKTV Food, UKTV Gardens and UKTV Drama (UK)
Slots she programs: For the lifestyle channels she acquires for the peak time slots from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. She’s looking to fill 30- and 60-minute slots.
How much she buys: ‘To give you a sense of scale,’ says Finlay, ‘we recently announced acquisition deals for around 400 hours of content for UKTV Style’s ‘Home’ and ‘Wellbeing’ strands.’
Third-party acquisitions make up around 35% to 40% of their programming. While most of the content Finlay buys is purchased on completion, UKTV does get involved with projects on a coproduction level. For instance, right now they are coproducing the series Colin and Justin’s Home Heist with HGTV through Cineflix.
Advice for producers approaching her for the first time: ‘Research the channel’s editorial strategy and output, and target your proposal accordingly.’ The best way to contact Finlay is through email at email@example.com.
Favorite recent acquisition: Finlay chooses Festival of Taste, a program that shows on UKTV Food. Based in Dubai, the show features chefs such as James Martin, Gary Rhodes and Jean-Christophe Novelli.
Favorite film: ‘Too many to pick just one,’ she says. Her list of contenders includes E.T., The Godfather, In The Mood For Love and Little Miss Sunshine.
NDR and Das Erste (Germany)
Slots she programs: Schlesinger buys for four slots for ndr. ‘Geschichtsthema’ is a slot that covers historical documentaries and airs on Tuesdays at 11 p.m.; ‘Expeditionen ins Tierreich’ is a nature and wildlife documentary slot on Wednesdays at 8:15 p.m.; the travel and foreign documentaries slot is called ‘Lander-Menschen-Abenteuer’ and airs on Thursdays at 8:15 p.m.; and ‘Das Thema’ is a documentary catch-all slot that airs Mondays at 11 p.m.
For the Das Erste network, Schlesinger buys for a slot called ‘Dokumentationen am Montag’ that features current affairs and history documentaries and airs Mondays at 9 p.m.
How much she buys: Schlesinger buys between 10 and 15 productions through straight acquisitions each year. Most are foreign productions that need to be dubbed into German, and that run 45 minutes each. Advice for producers approaching her territory for the first time: ‘The German market might be a little bit obscure for international producers as there are so many broadcasters, especially regional broadcasters,’ warns Schlesinger. However, she encourages producers to approach the German market because they are always looking for quality documentaries.
As for approaching Schlesinger and NDR specifically, her advice is to know the slots and the viewership. She and other members of the NDR staff are reachable via email and at festivals and conferences such as MIPCOM, Sunny Side of the Doc, Hot Docs or Guangzhou’s gzdoc.
Favorite recent acquisition: Schlesinger picks Sex Slaves, a documentary by Ric Esther Bienstock about the global sex slave trade, to be aired on Das Erste.
Slots he programs: Sapaut programs documentaries for every evening of the week on Histoire, a French-language history channel. Each weeknight has a different theme, including science and technology, mysteries, international relations and biographies. He buys mostly one-hour programs, with the occasional half hour scattered into the mix.
How much he buys: Around 300 hours per year through mainly straight acquisitions. ‘We usually pre-buy 20 to 30 hours per year, which is a mandatory obligation in accordance with French regulations,’ says Sapaut. ‘Most of these programs are French and we work closely with talented French producers whose duty it is to eventually look for international coproducers.’
Advice for producers approaching his territory for the first time: Due to the pre-buy regulations, Sapaut doesn’t buy much from foreign producers. He suggests only sending completed projects, and he is mostly interested in projects on the subject of international relations.
Favorite recent acquisition: Sapaut’s current favorite is Hitler and Eva Braun, a three-hour series that uses exclusive film footage and photos belonging to Braun.
UKTV History, UKTV Documentary and UKTV People (UK)
Slots he programs: He’s mostly looking for ongoing series that will build audiences in the peak time slots he oversees from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. It’s also important that the programs he acquires are both strong enough to cut through during the peak hours, but also easily repeatable in the daytime. He’s generally looking to fill 30- and 60-minute time slots, but will program the odd 90-minute series or one-offs.
How much he buys: Approximately 40% of UKTV’s programming is made up of third-party acquisitions. So Whelan’s ultimate answer to how much he buys is ‘quite a lot!’
Advice for producers approaching him for the first time: Having prior knowledge of the channels and a sense of what rights and territories are available to broadcasters are important when approaching UKTV. The best way to reach Whelan is through email: firstname.lastname@example.org. One tip: don’t pitch him children’s programming.
Favorite recent acquisition: ‘It seems impolite to choose one show above another, as they are all little gems,’ says Whelan. However, when pressed, he picks RDF’s Faking It, Wall to Wall’s Who Do You Think You Are? and Mallinson Sadler’s Deep Wreck Mysteries.
Favorite film: It’s a tie. The classic favorite is The Night of the Hunter while The Lives of Others is his recent first choice.
Director of programming
Slots she programs: The slot that runs Monday to Thursday from 8 p.m. until midnight is called ‘W Experts’ and includes programs that fit into the territory of home, design, property, shopping and transformation. Transformation includes everything from financial rejigging to home renovation to personal change, inside and out. She’s always looking for quality lifestyle programming for W’s daytime slots as well.
She buys programs to fit 30- and 60-minute time slots, but leans toward 30-minute episodes.
Advice for producers approaching her for the first time: ‘Take the time to research W Network before presenting programs for consideration,’ she says. Ideally she’s looking for programs that originate in the English language and have universal appeal. Check the W schedule on wnetwork.com and contact Skea via email at email@example.com.
Favorite recent acquisition: Renee has two. The first is Wa$ted, a green-friendly look at how to reduce your environmental footprint while saving money. How To Look Good Naked is a style program that teaches women how to dress for their body type and look their best without resorting to plastic surgery. It’s about self-esteem building rather than figure altering.
The last book she read: ‘I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old so if it wasn’t something relating to babies and toddlers, it might have been The Female Brain, though I’m certain I didn’t finish it,’ says Skea. ‘But it was fascinating.’
Director of programming
Planet TV (Germany)
Slots he programs: Proebst is responsible for seven primetime slots that cover science, history, biography, current affairs, wildlife, social issues and lifestyle. He’s looking for programs of any length that are relevant to a German audience and that present new views and uncommon material. ‘The length doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts,’ he says.
How much he buys: Each year he buys approximately 500 programming hours of content, mostly through straight acquisitions. Planet TV occasionally partners with producers on a consultancy basis.
Advice for producers approaching his territory for the first time: ‘Let me put it like this,’ says Proebst, ‘the German TV market is so complicated and so conflict-prone that you have to be either a consultant or a lawyer if you want to come off.’ He’s a little more encouraging when it comes to his advice on approaching him directly. He suggests that producers should know what they want and should heed the three ‘P’s: be patient, persistent and positive.
Favorite recent acquisition: First screened at this year’s MIPDOC and awarded the Platinum Remi Award at the 40th Worldfest in Houston, The Timebank – An Economy for Everyone is Proebst’s latest favorite to go out on his channel. ‘It is not very often that documentaries deal with economy, and it is even better that in this remarkable debut this is done in an instructive, clever and entertaining way,’ he says.
The last movie he saw that didn’t have to do with work: 2 Days in Paris by Julie Delpy. His review: ‘Great humor, a story told fast and funny, avoidance of clichés, eternal human questions – what more do you want?’
Final word: ‘I tend to believe that in the factual programming business – where everyday we look with our eyes wide open at reality, analyze society and look for trends – there might be very little that doesn’t have to do with work. Which is not too bad, after all.’