David Royle, EVP programming and production at Smithsonian Networks met with realscreen to discuss Smithsonian’s appeal to the international market, the Hope Diamond and what producers should know when approaching the network.
Royle credits Smithsonian’s brand integrity and quality of programming as the reason plenty of broadcasters and production companies are hoping to work with the network. He also points out that the majority of Smithsonian Channel’s programming is made up of coproductions and acquisitions.
Coproductions are a major focus for the two-year-old Washington, D.C.-based network, which is a joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime Networks. ‘We built our channel on being able to find partners we can work with in the international market,’ says Royle, stating this is ‘a very important part of our model.’
Indeed, Royle believes that copros are quite trendy right now. ‘We’re seeing a tough market,’ he says. ‘There is a movement towards coproductions, [it's] the only way people can fund [projects]. There is greater collaboration. I think that’s a good thing.’
Right now, Royle is particularly excited about the Smithsonian Networks-produced documentary Mystery of the Hope Diamond, which he says is ‘one of our biggest projects yet.’ The doc celebrates the 50 years the diamond has spent at the Smithsonian Institution by telling the story of its origins, and delving into the ‘curse’ of the diamond. The program also offers a closer look at the stone via modern science tech and also shines a spotlight on the new Harry Winston setting for the diamond that is the result of a vote-in contest sponsored by Smithsonian.
The series travels marvelously among other broadcasters, says Royle, since the diamond itself originated in India, and came to France before making its way to the United States. ‘It’s dramatic, but rooted in fact, science and accuracy,’ he says.
Royle says that the programming strategy for the channel is a different one from other networks. ‘We are less narrow in focus and we look for a range of programming – good dramatic history, popular culture, music, natural history and above all, strong visuals, compelling drama and great storytelling.’ He adds that he is looking for singles and miniseries.
As for what producers should know when pitching to the network, Royle advises that offering a reality show is a no-go for Smithsonian. Knowing the channel and bringing complementary programming to the table is the best thing to do. ‘If you’ve got a good idea, unique access and funding, be persistent.’