Broadening the audience for science content is a concern for international broadcasters, although each has different ways of meeting that goal, according to commissioning editors gathered at Sunny Side of the Doc.
The commissioners assembled for the “Science Documentaries Under the Microscope” session at the La Rochelle doc conference delved into their individual approaches to upping interest in science programming. NHK in Japan has put the focus on technology-driven visually spectacular fare, while Discovery Channel Canada is following the lead of its U.S. counterpart as it airs scripted projects, and ARTE is launching science investigations for primetime.
“We need to entertain and inform our audiences; as a commercial broadcaster, audiences are very important to us,” said Discovery Channel Canada’s president and general manager Paul Lewis. With increased competition and digital developments, “how to continue to appeal to young audiences is a huge challenge,” he added.
Besides the blue chip international coproductions the Discovery brand is noted for, Lewis said there is also a focus on “science everywhere,” with shows such as Never Ever Do This At Home, Highway Thru Hell, or Daily Planet.
Now it is going to experiment in scripted, with shows such as 73 Seconds: The Challenger Investigation, starring William Hurt, making their way onto the schedules of Discovery Communications net Science Channel and internationally. Another area of interest is live events, with Discovery Canada having broadcast Discovery U.S.’ coverage of Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, which proved a powerful social media driver.
At Japan’s NHK, innovative technology is a priority, with the pubcaster focusing on finding content that showcases relatively unseen visual phenomena. “We have a large in-house production unit which is also a technology lab,” said Shin Yasuda, a producer in NHK’s international coproductions department.
NHK is currently producing The Next Megaquake, together with National Geographic International and France Télévisions (for France 5). “The French have a similar kind of appreciation for visual imagery, so when it comes to reversioning for local markets, for France, a lot can be shared,” he said.
ARTE, meanwhile, addresses science with primetime, family-oriented shows on the natural world, and “visual amazing stories or science expeditions,” said head of specialist factual Hélène Coldefy. For instance, currently in production at Les Films d’Ici is a project on the Gombessa expedition, going 120 meters underwater to film a giant fish thought to have vanished 17 million years ago, the Coelacanth.
Airing cutting-edge science documentaries on latest discoveries in the second part of the evening, ARTE is now starting to commission a few science investigations on environmental issues, destined for primetime broadcast.
“These are fast moving projects – we need them produced very quickly, as opposed to big budget events which require more time, as they need to be visually spectacular and internationally coproduced,’ said Coldefy. The first of these projects will be Galaxie Presse’s In Vitro Meat Soon To Be Served?, about the future of food.