TV

Doc/Fest ’13: BBC promises to protect blue-chip wildlife series

The BBC has promised it will continue to produce and air big-budget, blue-chip natural history series such as Frozen Planet (pictured), Life, Africa and Planet Earth, following a UK report suggesting that its multimillion dollar coproduction partnership with Discovery is coming to an end.
June 14, 2013

The BBC has promised it will continue to produce and air big-budget, blue-chip natural history series such as Frozen Planet (pictured), Life, Africa and Planet Earth, following a UK report suggesting that its multimillion dollar coproduction partnership with Discovery is coming to an end.

According to a report from UK trade publication Broadcast, which cites various anonymous sources as well as former BBC director of television Jana Bennett, U.S. cable giant Discovery Communications is pulling the plug on the long-standing partnership as it feels it no longer gets enough value from the deal. Neither the BBC or Discovery have officially confirmed or denied the contents of the report, and both broadcasters have declined specific comment about the status of the partnership.

Spokespersons for the BBC say talks between the two parties are ongoing. However, talking to realscreen at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the BBC’s commissioning editor for science and natural history, Kim Shillinglaw (pictured below), said that regardless of the outcome of those talks, viewers will see no difference onscreen in the years to come.

“I can’t comment on the discussions between the BBC and Discovery, but what I can absolutely promise you is there will be exactly the same quality and volume of natural history on the BBC next year, and the year after that, and the year after that,” she said.

Kim Shillinglaw

BBC director of television Danny Cohen reinforced that sentiment in a statement given to realscreen. “The BBC’s Natural History programming has always been a core part of our DNA and we have ambitious plans for the future,” he said. “There will certainly be no reduction in this vital strand of programming either in the UK or internationally.”

A spokesperson for Discovery, meanwhile, would only say regarding the Broadcast report: “We don’t comment on speculation or rumor.”

The BBC and Discovery first announced a large-scale strategic programming relationship for coproductions and program acquisitions for North America in 1998.

The partnership typically saw Discovery putting major funding into a coproduction made by the BBC’s NHU, and led to blue-chip series such as Life, Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Wonders of the Solar System.

Many of the productions were narrated by Sir David Attenborough in the UK, and they tended to premiere in Britain first, with U.S. airings following after.

In 2010, the partners renewed their coproduction partnership to 2014; however, Broadcast now reports that negotiations for the discontinuation of the pact are “said to have been all but concluded.” That, at press time, remains unconfirmed by both the BBC and Discovery.

Last month, Discovery Channel in the U.S. premiered a seven-part natural history series called North America, which was made by Silverback Films and marked the first such blue-chip venture without the BBC on-board.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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