As established natural history broadcasters spread their word around the globe, and companies outside the traditional pack jump on the wild world bandwagon, RealScreen canvasses four decision-makers on what they want, what they need, and what they avoid…
Jean Noël Robyn, head of acquisitions at France’s doc channel Odyssée, is resigned to the fact that working for a satellite service means he can’t offer natural history filmmakers as much money as other broadcasters can.
‘Because we can’t pay much, because we’re a new channel, I can’t afford to have the most recent things,’ he explains. ‘I don’t have a complete choice. I have to choose between the things that are made available to me.’
Odyssée, created in January 1997 and based in Issy les Moulineaux Cedex, is broadcast on satellite and cable systems in France to roughly a million people. It airs 500 hours of docs each year, of which about 60% are related to topics such as nature, animals, ecology, travel and people. Robyn estimates 10% to 20% of the films he programs fall into the natural history category.
When a doc does get scheduled, it gets lots of airtime. Odyssée’s 14-hour daily programming schedule is repeated daily for one week, meaning a film can air at least seven times.
Though Odyssée airs a significant amount of product from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, Robyn admits he’s starting to see the same kind of British quality coming from producers in other countries, including films from Japan’s NHK. ‘Mainly Australia and New Zealand, of course, because they have connections, and other countries just because they’ve learned,’ explains Robyn. ‘They discovered that [the BBC] produced the best, and the type of films that you can sell easily.’
He says BBC films are the most like real cinema. ‘You learn things, and it’s so well done that it’s very close to cinema in the way it’s made.’
Odyssée’s goal is to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and Robyn says his viewers prefer family-oriented natural history docs. Unlike viewers in some countries, he says, the French prefer films about animals in their natural habitats over films focusing primarily on predator and prey: ‘We don’t go for blood.’
Robyn avoids comparing Odyssée to competitor Planete, citing his channel’s broader appeal. ‘We’re quite different from Planete – we’re less intellectual, less Parisian,’ he says. ‘We want to appeal to as many people as possible. That doesn’t mean that we don’t go for quality, but we don’t want to be elitist.’
What makes a natural history film worthy for Odyssée? ‘I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I see it,’ explains Robyn. ‘On paper, it doesn’t mean anything. With the same script you can make ten different films – some very good, some absolutely awful – with the same budget and the same idea on paper.’ He says length doesn’t matter, as Odyssée will air films ranging from 12 minutes to 122 minutes or more. ‘If we like the program we buy it and then we see what we can do with it.’
The broadcaster has only recently started to entertain coproduction deals, but expects to be limited in what it can invest during the first couple of years. This year the channel will coproduce about 30 hours of programming from an annual budget of 36 million francs. It hopes to be coproducing over 500 hours a year by the new millennium.
For now, Robyn is acquiring his films, paying an average of 13,000 francs for a one-year term if the film is in French, and for two years if it’s not. Robyn will be shopping at both Sunnyside of the Doc and MIPCOM this year, though he can’t say exactly what he’ll be looking for. ‘Nothing specific,’ he offers. ‘Good things.’
Buyer profiles -
Disney Television (pg. 34)
Animal Planet Europe (pg. 41)
National Geographic Australia (pg. 42)