BRAVO FOR BRAVO, UP FOR OXYGEN: Bravo Media reported its best year ever in 2010, capping off five record-breaking years. According to Nielsen Media Research, Bravo got its best numbers ever across all key demos in primetime, digital platforms and financial metrics. The NBC Universal-owned U.S. cable net also ramped up its development slate as well as its original programming offerings, moving to five nights a week. Its prime year-to-date averages of 868,000 total viewers and 535,000 adults 18-49 placed it as the fourth fastest growing top 20 cable entertainment network for the year among adults 18-49. Sister cable net Oxygen also reported good gains for 2010, reporting its most-watched year ever and double-digit growth across all key demos. It’s all part and parcel of another good year for Frances Berwick, president of Bravo Media, Oxygen prez Jason Klarman and Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks. In addition to both nets pulling in higher numbers via television, the brands made big headway in the digital space. Bravo, in particular, made social media a major focus, launching its Talk Bubble interactive tool and the Bravo Now iPad app and setting up partnerships with social media hubs Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook.
MTV GETS LOUD AND PROUD: The U.S. cable net re-established itself as a premiere destination for the youth demo thanks to perhaps the noisiest of the recent reality crop, Jersey Shore, and other zeitgeist-tapping factual entertainment hits such as Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant. These programs marked a shift towards what then-president of programming and development Tony DiSanto called “a more cinema verité approach” in an interview for realscreen’s Global Pitch Guide. The net also made a distinct move towards identifying itself as more of a general programming destination by revamping its logo, placing characters from its top fact-ent hits within the letters, and doing away with the tag “Music Television” altogether. In October, DiSanto and SVP of development Liz Gateley announced their plans to leave the net and form their own prodco, DiGa. By November, MTV had upped head of scripted development David Janollari to EVP, head of programming and EVP of production Chris Linn had his role expanded to EVP programming and head of MTV Production.
TAKING IT TO THE WEB: French broadcasters Canal+, ARTE and France Télévisions each played an active role in bringing original documentary content to the web. ARTE’s Prison Valley, its first doc commissioned for the web, picked up French broadcaster France 24-RFI’s 2010 International Web Documentary Award in September. Joel Ronez, the head of ARTE France’s web department, has a budget of 2 million euros and of that money, the net will invest 400,000 euros into four-to-five web-based series – both factual and drama – per year.
HAND-IN-HAND WITH BRANDS: Brands increasingly gained a foothold in the non-fiction and factual entertainment world over the last couple of years. But one company, @radical.media, has been a pioneer of sorts when it comes to uniting brands with non-fiction content.
Founded in 1993 by CEO Jon Kamen and Frank Scherma, @radical.media started out as a producer of television commercials, but evolved over the past 10 years to become a reliable producer of branded long-form, episodic and documentary entertainment. It scored a big branded hit in 2007 with the long-running Sundance Channel series Iconoclasts, a coproduction with vodka brand Grey Goose, the HP-sponsored Summit on the Summit for MTV and Sony VAIO and Intel’s The Rocket Project doc for Science Channel.
@radical.media has also provided an outlet for documentary filmmakers such as Joe Berlinger who move between the commercial, television and documentary worlds. In addition to episodes of Iconoclasts, @radical has produced Berlinger’s features Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Crude and Brother’s Keeper, as well as Errol Morris’ Fog of War, his 2003 doc about former U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara (Morris being another director that’s active in the commercial realm). In October @radical’s foresight in the branded entertainment arena paid off when global production giant FremantleMedia acquired a 60% stake in the company. Its 2011 production slate includes two shows for the Oprah Winfrey Network and several other cable series. (Kevin Ritchie)
INNOVATORS IN ACTION: Among the prodcos that have recently married innovation with storytelling are Studio Lambert, the recently-launched new prodco from former RDF CCO Stephen Lambert. The shingle’s Seven Days was an ambitious attempt produced for Channel 4 to harness the immediacy of the Web and the worldwide watercooler effect being revolutionized by social media. But while the reality series garnered buzz online, it wasn’t enough to win a second season, as ratings were disappointing.
Another Brit prodco that brought new techniques to the playing field for Channel 4 was Dragonfly, whose multi-camera approach to documenting the life and times of a typical UK family in The Family (naturally) brought strong ratings for two seasons. The technique was resurrected once more for C4 in One Born Every Minute, which captures the action within a British hospital’s maternity ward.
In the U.S., prodcos with a penchant for archive such as Siskel/Jacobs Productions and New Animal Productions proved, with shows such as 102 Minutes the Changed America and JFK: 3 Shots that Changed the World, that an archive-only approach can be completely engrossing.
BANKSY ENTERS THE DOC WORLD WITH “EXIT”: One of the most talked-about documentaries of the year comes from a first-time director who has blazed trails in another discipline, street art. Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by elusive underground icon Banksy, is an examination of both the graffiti phenomenon and the effect of its cachet on its practitioners. It’s been heralded as a groundbreaking film and nominated for scores of doc awards, including the Cinema Eye Honors and the British Independent Film Awards among others, and has been shortlisted for a nomination in the feature doc category for the Oscars. Still, the film has provoked some controversy via one of its stars, Thierry Guetta (aka street art newcomer Mr. Brainwash). Several media outlets have wondered aloud about the identity of Guetta (is he an actor? Is he Banksy?) and whether or not the film is simply another one of the street artist’s colorful creations. In a year that featured other films that have been dubbed “dubious docs” by the press – namely, Catfish and the one that was indeed a mockumentary, Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here — the doubts surrounding the Banksy doc don’t seem to be as pronounced. Either way, audiences and critics seem to agree that Exit provides an incredibly entertaining window on a shadowy world.
MORRIS TANTALIZES WITH TABLOID: Errol Morris’ Tabloid welded his trademark techniques (the use of the Interrotron, a video system that projects the director’s face in front of the camera lens, for example) to a stranger-than-fiction story for another engrossing treatise of the slippery slope between truth and tale. Focusing on the lurid story of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who allegedly kidnapped a Mormon male, Morris said in a director’s statement that the film was both a “return to my favorite genre – sick, sad and funny” but also “a meditation on how we are shaped by the media and even more powerfully, by ourselves.” Critics have called it one of his best.
MOORE TO WALK FROM DOCS?: As we enter a new decade, what’s up with one of of our past Mavericks? Agit-docmaker Michael Moore continued to make headlines with the release of 2009′s Capitalism: A Love Story, but not only for the film’s subject matter. A searing indictment of the capitalist system, Moore also told the press that the film could function as his last documentary. Moore told reporters at the time that he was interested in pursuing new challenges, which could include a return to scripted features (his last was Canadian Bacon in 1995). While news of a new Moore doc hasn’t yet emerged, his recent support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (along with Ken Leach and John Pilger, he’d put up bail money for Assange while he was jailed in the UK) has brought him back onto the rabble-rousing radar.