During this year’s edition of MIPDoc, which moved from the Carlton to the Martinez Hotel in Cannes, the predominant sentiment from speakers was one of motivation. Kicking off with the ‘What Do Buyers Want’ panel, moderator Simon Shaps, chairman of Mercury Media, asked audience members to raise their hands if they felt docs were facing hard times right now. For the few who did raise their hands, Shaps said he hoped his panel could change their minds.
Panelists Caroline Behar, head of acquisitions and international coproductions at France Television Group; Cristine Dewey, president of ro*co films international; Takahiro Hamano, executive producer of program and content development at NHK Enterprises Inc; Kristina Hollstein, director of international coproduction and development at ZDF Enterprises GmbH and Tabitha Jackson, current arts commissioner at C4, spoke about what kinds of docs are working for their channels, or in Dewey’s case the channel she works in partnership with, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Each tried to instill hope in attendees by indicating that there is room for docs on TV, while still being honest about budgets. Behar explained France Televisions’ new structure, saying that the doc unit is open to docs from new regions, such as India and China, and that there are new slots for international current affairs docs, intimate stories and wildlife docs across France Televisions channels.
Dewey explained ro*co’s partnership with OWN, which will entail airing docs on the channel as well as select theatrical events, adding that they are still looking for the two docs which they will roll out into theaters before they air on the channel.
Jackson, who was previously editor at More4 before moving to the arts commissioner role at C4 this month, said that More4′s ‘True Stories’ strand fills between 40 and 52 slots with docs each year, with an average of £40,000 of funding across those slots. She called it a ‘hungry strand’ saying that it is open to any subject as long as it’s character and director driven.
While each channel was open to docs of varying lengths and themes, when it came to budgets the outlook was that things may not be getting better, but they’re not getting worse either. Behar said France Televisions’ budgets are not growing, but the budget for docs is holding steady. Hollstein agreed, qualifying that by saying that although doc budgets are staying the same, broadcasters expect to get more bang for their bucks. Jackson added that with budgets at C4 being cut due to ad revenue decreases, producers should look to advertiser funding as a new model, rather than expecting to get full funding from broadcasters.
In the featured interview with Deborah Scranton on MIPDoc’s day two, she mentioned Jackson’s opinion on the advertiser funding model and warned that, while that may be a viable model for some projects, it won’t work for everyone. In particular, she said, ‘It’s a real issue if you’re doing [work about] issues that will make people uncomfortable.’ She points to her latest film Earth Made of Glass which examines the realities of post-war Rwanda. She pointed to grants as another funding option that may be more viable for certain projects.
Closing MIPDoc’s second day, Nutopia CEO Jane Root gave a keynote presentation discussing the potential for doc programs to make a big splash. Speaking of her latest project America the Story of Us, which debuts on History on April 25, she says Nutopia and History ‘super sized’ the original idea by blowing it out with cinematic CGI to imagine the past, and adding a chorus of ‘notable Americans’ (such as Colin Powell, P. Diddy and Martha Stewart) speaking about what they feel it means to be American.
Root remained optimistic that there is room for big documentaries and factual programs on television, pointing to two recent unlikely hits in the U.S., Undercover Boss and Who Do You Think You Are? (both formats, based on UK programs). She mentioned possible roll-out plans for the America project, such as making it 3D for museum screenings or selling it as a format in other territories. She wrapped up on an optimistic note and a bit of advice: there’s a lot of potential for doc programs in the U.S., and filmmakers and producers should never be afraid of making a program ‘too big.’