National Geographic Television has formed a wide-ranging joint venture with u.k. commercial broadcaster Carlton Television, which will lead to the production of 300 hours of factual programming in the next three years.
Already the partners have green-lit approximately 40 hours of programs, which will predominantly be made by Carlton in Europe.
The productions will have a focus on natural history, adventure and exploration, and are intended to provide ngt with original programming as it rolls out branded channels worldwide. ngt president Tim Kelly said: ‘We look forward to developing both one-offs and episodic series that will serve as signature programming for the channels, as well as for international distribution.’
The arrangement will centre on a program development fund of around us$30 million supplied by both partners. This will be adminstered by a jointly constituted editorial board, co-chaired by Keenan Smart, head of ngt’s natural history unit, and Paul Cleary, head of docs at Carlton Television.
In order to meet the output level required, Carlton plans to create a large number of new producer and researcher posts almost immediately. Budgets ranging from us$30,000 for series, through to us$600,000 for specials, have been earmarked for the joint venture.
The decision to form the partnership reflects ng’s need to ramp up flagship productions to feed its global network expansion, like last month’s establishment of a customized Polish version as part of the wizja tv cable and satellite package. Although ng has struck a number of distribution deals in recent months, it has found itself limited by pre-existing partnerships. With a limited supply of in-house programming, insiders are keen to develop blue-chip films that will reinforce the brand’s premium positioning.
From Carlton’s point of view, the deal reflects an ambition to make its production arm less reliant on itv for program commissions. The plan is for the company’s distribution arm, Carlton International, to market the new productions to terrestrial windows in partnership with ng’s distribution arm, Explore International.
Carlton International managing director Rupert Dilnott-Cooper – who was closely involved in the deal’s negotiations – says the partnership is an ideal fit. ‘ng is one of the world’s strongest brands and we have a history of working in this field. We wanted to increase the amount of programming we produce, because our international buyers tell us they want it.’
As in the case of protracted discussions surrounding the recently signed-off joint venture between the bbc and Discovery, there are a number of issues yet to resolve. Dilnott-Cooper says it is too early to say in detail how the new venture’s windowing strategy will unfold.
For example, he would not comment on whether the channels will be supplied with programming at below-market prices, or under what circumstances it would have a first run ahead of terrestrial. He did stress, however, that the deal is a ‘very commercial one. Both sides see it as a venture which is a major opportunity to make a return.’
Currently, ng’s channels are available in the u.k., Ireland, Scandinavia and Finland, in addition to the recently launched Polish service. More launch-date announcements for new networks are expected over the course of the summer.
-Hewlett snags Dale for C4
-Discovery/ZDF: Programming and copro agreement part of slate of DCI announcements