Wildscreen ’12: The one-offs commissioners want

In a session at Wildscreen today, heads of natural history at France 5, NDR, ORF, PBS and the BBC detailed their slots, and outlined what sort of one-offs and specials work for them.
October 18, 2012

In a session at Wildscreen today (October 18), heads of natural history at France 5, NDR, ORF, PBS and the BBC detailed their slots, and outlined what sort of one-offs and specials work for them.

Laurent Flahault, France Télévisions commissioning editor for acquisitions and international coproductions, detailed the two wildlife slots his channels have: France 2 has a wildlife slot on Sundays, while France 5 airs seven hours per week. Flahault is keen on blue-chip wildlife, particularly 85-minute specials. Most of France 2 and 5′s wildlife are acquisitions, but there is some room for pre-buy commissions.

He does not want hosted programs, since often times the hosts he is pitched are not French. The tone he is looking for is light, since his programming targets families watching in the afternoon slots.

Flahault said he is best pitched with a two page brief, with a clear synopsis. As a coproduction partner, he can pitch in amounts in the €50,000 to €60,000 (USD $65,000 to $78,000) range.

“In France, there are not many partners doing wildlife,” he added.

Over at the BBC, meanwhile, Steve Greenwood, series editor for the pubcaster’s ‘Natural World’ strand, informed the audience that his strand commissions nine one-hour films per year. Six of those are coproductions with Animal Plant, while the remaining three are with other broadcasters.

The audience Greenwood is looking to serve are people in their 50s and up, watching during a peak time slot on BBC2. “We try to persuade as many people as possible to watch a wildlife film” against the other British networks’ offerings, including long-running soap Coronation Street on rival ITV1.

He does not commission any British films, series, or programs about pets, or on agricultural animals. Greenwood is looking for films that fall into three filters: a really strong emotional story; a great animal, either a vastly popular animal like apes or bears, or one that people don’t know that they like; and films offering a different and personal perspective.

“We try to make ‘Natural World’ look distinctive from Frozen Planet and Life,” the BBC’s landmark natural history events, he said. Currently he is looking to program for films delivering in April 2014 and beyond. “Just send us an email,” he said.

Discussing German wildlife slots, Joern Roever, CEO of NDR Naturfilm/Doclights, said that his team acquire 50 titles per year for the primetime slot on pubcaster NDR.

He is looking for local stories of wildlife around Germany and Europe, as well as big international topics. “Lions and cheetahs always work, big funny animals,” he said. “Small animals don’t tend to work.”

He would prefer to be pitched with a one or two page idea, and an email should be sent, he said. Meanwhile over in America, Janet Hess, series editor of PBS’s ‘Nature’ strand, is looking for 13 new shows a year that are 51-minutes long. Her strand tends to coproduce, but every now and then fully funds a film.

“It’s a real advantage to come in with a partner yourself,” she advised, adding that she is always looking for blue-chip programs, as ‘Nature’ airs a few per year.

Since PBS has a system where they will keep a ‘Nature’ film in rotation for four years, sometimes she will hesitate to say yes to a film if another focusing on the same animal is still in rotation on the schedule. Hess acknowledged that a producer pitching wouldn’t know what’s in the rotation, and she advised to pitch away, regardless.

She also added that they like to have a mini-series each year, of two to three episodes. As for PBS’s audiences, which are extremely broad, she said that the network always wants younger, “which I don’t understand because every single second someone turns 40.”

Finally, Andrew Solomon, head of natural history and science for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, discussed the ‘Universum’ primetime strand, which appeals to an older audience and families.

He looks to fill 40 slots per year, and commissions eight to 10 films. For him, international coproductions are extremely important. That being said, he wants blue-chip docs about Austria or the regions around, as well as international stories about humans and animals.

“We want something surprising and a little bit different,” he said.

To appeal to his team, you should have a pre-sale or a coproduction with another broadcaster you have on board, or a coproduction with an Austrian production company, before you pitch.

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.