RSL ’14: BBC, PBS on making smart programming work

Commissioners from the BBC, PBS, Nat Geo and Smithsonian discussed and debated how to make smart programming work for UK and U.S. audiences at Realscreen London yesterday. (Pictured: the BBC's Martin Davidson)
October 10, 2014

Commissioners from the BBC, PBS, Nat Geo and Smithsonian discussed and debated how to make smart programming work for UK and U.S. audiences at Realscreen London’s “Smart + Loud = Hit” session yesterday (October 9).

Martin Davidson, the BBC’s head of history and business commissioning, told delegates at London’s Congress Centre that in the “Smart + Loud” equation giving title to the session, “smart” was a definite want, but “loud” was not.

“I find loud is numbing,” he said. “It’s uninteresting and problematic. Smart plus ‘something’ equals a hit, but making that equation work is getting harder and harder.”

Davidson said that it was possible to lure in a younger audience with smart programming, but that it was providing harder to do that with traditional long-form content.

“What they’re obsessed with is short-form,” he said. “For them, death is 59 minutes – they want it in four minutes. But they do want it.”

PBS’s VP of programming and development Bill Gardner¬†agreed that “there is an audience for [smart programming],” and echoed that the key challenge was “how to get people who like short pieces to get into long-form.”

Gardner point to PBS’s recently launched, Ken Burns-helmed series The Roosevelts as a good recent example of where his network has had success with educational programming.

While rolling it out on TV over the course of a week, the U.S. pubcaster also made the decision with Burns’ latest to make the whole 14-hour series available digitally online, in tandem with the premiere TV episode.

The initiative proved successful. “A tenth of the country watched it over the course of a week,” he added.

Offering her two cents, Off the Fence CEO Ellen Windemuth¬†said that American broadcasters often turn to UK producers for the entertaining, “smart” programming, whereas American indies had a better reputation with louder, comedic reality, such as Duck Dynasty and Jersey Shore.

“What Americans look for from us in the UK is entertaining experience that is clever,” she said.

The session, moderated by Warehouse 51 Productions MD Carl Hall, also featured Atlantic Productions CEO Anthony Geffen, Smithsonian Channel VP of program development Chris Hoelzl, and National Geographic Channels International exec VP and head of international content Hamish Mykura.

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 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.