LONDON PROGRAMME MARKET: Opens with ITEL/Seventh Art hook-up...
December 1, 1998

LONDON PROGRAMME MARKET: Opens with ITEL/Seventh Art hook-up

As buyers flew in for the London Programme Market last month, U.K. distributor ITEL unveiled a new development deal with U.K. doc specialist Seventh Art Productions.

For ITEL, the link-up is the latest in a line of factual programming partnerships which has already seen it join forces with Wall to Wall and Principal Films.

Seventh Art is known for its prowess with historical films. Most recently, it produced I, Caesar for the BBC and A&E. Seventh Art’s co-founder is producer/director Phil Grabsky who says the new deal will allow him to concentrate more on production. ‘We made a deliberate decision to do our own distribution for a few years so we could get to know the international market. But as we have grown it has been difficult to produce, direct and follow up sales leads.’

He sees the relationship as mutually beneficial: ‘We can provide ITEL with well-crafted productions and they can take some of the pressure off us financially.’ The partnership, he adds, will be non-exclusive.

At the LPM, ITEL was distributing a Seventh Art series called In the Footsteps of Nelson and raising finance on an unnamed historical film. However ITEL chief executive, Andrew MacBean, stresses the primary use of the LPM is as a follow-up to the work already started at mipcom. Highlights from MIPCOM included sales to Germany. ‘Until this breakthrough, selling docs to Germany seemed like an impossibility,’ says Macbean. The other key development was overseas interest in BBC’s Timewatch strand. ‘In six months, we have managed to get episodes into around 30 territories.’

At the LPM and MIPCOM, Macbean observed a growing appetite for ‘highly commercial, glitzy films.’ September Films’ Office Affairs, The Truth About Men, and The Truth About Sex have proved popular. There is also a trend towards pay-tv channels looking for documentaries that can complement and support feature film presentations.’

Among the other major players, Carlton International marketing manager, Mark Gray, reports a trend towards the acquisition of ‘international specials and one-offs.’ Popular films in the CI catalog included a look at Universal Studios’ new Florida theme park in Billion Dollar Funfairs which sold across Europe, North America, and the Middle East. Odyssey Films’ Queen Camilla and Princess Diana’s Legacy also attracted attention.

Looking ahead, Carlton began promoting forthcoming projects such as Carlton Productions’ Notes From a Small Island, to be hosted by travel author Bill Bryson; and The Sexual Century, a 6-part series from Barna Alper of Toronto.

BBC Worldwide also treats the LPM as a continuation of efforts at MIPCPM. Highlights include a four-part series on the Catholic Church called The Absolute Truth, which is the top-selling show to have emerged from BBC News and Current Affairs. Of 20 or so sales, territories include Canada, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Holland, and South Africa.

David Pounds, managing director of indie distributor Electric Sky, is a fan of the LPM, which this year attracted around 80 exhibiting companies. He says: ‘Buyers are completely focused on British product. At MIPCOM they can’t see everyone so they have to prioritize.’

Pounds signed off a major deal with Discovery Networks U.S. at the LPM for a three-part film by Tim Shawcross called The Rise and Fall of the Mafia.

TWI Productions took a joint stand with British Pathe where it continued its sales efforts on Fabulous Fortunes and Battle Group, a copro with WGBH. Cable and satellite rights for the former have been sold to Discovery International. TWI’s Michel Masquelier says, ‘We have reached our projections on that series for the year, but there are still plenty of deals to be done.’

Battle Group, an insight into life on board the U.S. military machine, is close to completion and will be available either as the WGBH version or an international version. ‘We have made seven or eight pre-sales so far but have had more than 25 strong requests from people who want to see some footage before buying,’ says Masquelier. TWI also began promoting a new series at the LPM called The Inventions That Changed Our Lives (Trans World International). The major push will come at NATPE.

RDF Television’s sales director, Matthew Frank, headlined at the LPM with African Odyssey, a two-parter following the exploits of explorer Kingsley Holgate as he retraces Dr. Livingstone’s steps. ‘We got an overwhelming response for that at MIPCOM and are pushing hard to brand Kingsley. He is a great Robinson Crusoe-type character who will front a major 13-part African adventure series which is to be produced next year.’

Other RDF properties at the LPM included a BBC Everyman special which followed a young girl as she revisited the site of the Pan-Am Lockerbie bombing in which her father died. RDF was also promoting its lifestyle series Style World, a 13 x 30-minute travel and interior design show which ‘picked up three pre-sales,’ according to Frank.

Frank claims to have had a good MIPCOM and LPM though underlines the general view that ‘there was a lack of Asian buyers due to the economic downturn. That said, we found it was increasingly easy to place series with cable and satellite broadcasters as their businesses mature.’ Andy Fry

DURRIE ON NAT GEO’S PEG: Doors Thrown Open in January

The irony of the situation is that, as head of ABC/Kane, Nick Durrie spent ten years wrestling with National Geographic for programs and producers. Now he’s heading up Nat Geo’s new Program Enterprise Group. PEG has been charged with both developing and supervising the production of large quantities of NG product required for the new channels, as well as exploring the international market for possible distribution opportunities with terrestrials. The goal for production in the first year is 100 hours, and by the second, Durrie is hoping for between 200 and 400.

PEG now has a staff of four, but plans see the group expand to 14 permanent staff, all of whom will act in a purely supervisory role. PEG itself will produce no programming, but will instead act as executive producers (notables Keenan Smart and Christine Weber are part of the group) to outside prodcos. Durrie claims to be inundated with proposals at the moment, but the doors get thrown open at the first of January. Proposals which come to the door with money, claims Durrie, ‘get a special seat at the table.’

The task at hand: produce hundreds of hours of programming while maintaining the Geo look. Explains Durrie, budgets will range ‘from high-end for certain signature, blockbuster series, to cable-economic series. We’ll have some US$100,000 half hours. Can we maintain the quality? Well, that’s our challenge. We absolutely intend to.’

Besides filling shelf space, PEG’s mandate also includes relationship-building. ‘We’re going to be creating global alliances wherever we can,’ states Durrie, ‘and also individual alliances with producers.’ Bonds will also be forged with other NG facets, with programming tie-ins to the magazine – particularly NG’s soon-to-be-launched publication, Adventure. Brendan Christie

LWT LAB: Low-cost, High volume for Digital, On-line

One of the U.K.’s leading factual and entertainment producers, LWT Productions (a subsidiary of Granada Media Group), is launching a dedicated unit called The Lab which will develop radical low-cost production proposals for the emerging digital TV and on-line environment.

Penciled in for launch in the first quarter of 1999, the new unit will employ 25 people. Currently it is being project-managed by LWTP director of productions, Terri Jones. However, when it is operational, LWT Factual executive producer, Ralph Jones, will take over as managing editor.

Says Terri Jones, ‘In The Lab, we will create a department which has the time and resources to concentrate on what digital media might mean.’

Most significant about The Lab is that it will fuse production and resources talent. ‘Traditionally, LWTP has a formal trading relationship with its resources base The London Studios,’ says Jones. ‘But The Lab will have its own graphics, dubbing, editing, and camera equipment. We think this will allow it to maximize the use of technology.’

For Granada, the creation of a high-volume, low-cost producer makes strategic sense. Not only is it a key backer in the launch of digital channel ITV2, it is a major shareholder in the launch of the new digital latform ONdigital. It also has three lifestyle channels: Granada Plus, Men & Motors, and Breeze.

According to Jones, ‘Producing for digital will need a workforce which can approach production with a completely different frame of mind from terrestrial television.’ However she believes The Lab’s experimentation may provide a beneficial learning curve for other parts of the LWTP business.

Although it’s too early to say what types of programs The Lab will produce, Jones rules nothing out. Interactivity and advertiser-funded programs will both be under consideration as ways of driving the business forward.

For Marcus Plantin, LWT director of programmes, the creation of The Lab is a critical part of his brief to ‘grow the business any way possible and grow it quickly. It seemed to me that if we didn’t get into higher-volume, lower-cost production using cutting edge technology then we would miss out on an incredible opportunity.’

Plantin says the decision to make The Lab stand-alone rather than a part of the core LWTP business is a reflection of the fact that ‘we already have a huge amount of work here. I felt that if we locked The Lab into the core business it might have lost its way. I was also keen for it to have its own culture. People in production can no longer assume that anything is a given.’

In a separate move, LWTP has won its first-ever commission from the BBC for a program in the investigative strand Inside Story. Given the strength of the BBC’s in-house factual team and the corporation’s competition with ITV, the news is a surprise. Plantin says: ‘We are known for delivering popular factual programs to ITV and Sky, but have been under-recognized for the good solid documentary work that we do for companies like C4. This is a reminder of the calibre of people we have in the factual department.’ Andy Fry


Few in Sheffield would doubt the power of film to obliterate obscurity. The home of The Full Monty, Sheffield is known, now, for unemployment and naked men. Is that true? Is that fair?

The 5th Sheffield International Documentary Festival grappled with – one might even say wrung its collective hands over – notions of truth and fairness in British documentary filmmaking. Ethics debate dominated the festival, as recent hoaxes and alleged acts of fakery have become front-page fodder.

As documentary becomes a powerful ratings-getter, they’ve come under greater scrutiny for their accuracy from newspaper journalists (perhaps, in part, because, as one docu-maker suggested, more of the investigative breakthroughs in British public life in the past decade have come from TV, not print).

Perhaps it was especially appropriate that the sport with the least perceived veracity of all – professional wrestling – opened the festival, as Paul Jay of Toronto’s High Road Productions brought his feature-length wrestling epic Hit Man Hart to town. Already a hit with key international broadcasters, the film drew an enthusiastic crowd at Sheffield… as well as a reporter from Powerslam magazine.

Nineteen-ninety eight being the 100th anniversary of his birth, the ghost of John Grierson – father of the British doc movement, creator of the National Film Board of Canada, and blueprint-maker for such Empire-devised entities as the Gold Coast Film Unit in Africa – lurked throughout the proceedings, held in a former auto showroom, now a modern four screen cinema complex.

The festival was created in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which introduced market principles to the British TV system and shook up the old order, now about to be further splintered by scores of digital channels. Back then, many feared the new commercial TV landscape would have no room for `factual programs.’ Many titter at that thought now, but others fret, seeing that room is mostly made for docutainment.

Marion Bowman, managing editor, BBC Entertainment, and a board member of the Festival, said ‘never before has the ideological power of documentary films been so vigorously appropriated.’ She cites as the source of its power ‘documentary’s claims and beliefs about reality.’ For many, such claims are rooted in Grierson’s definition of the documentary as being the ‘creative treatment of actuality.’ In these uncertain times, the legitimacy of that definition was called into question.

In the discussion ‘Let He Who is Without Sin…,’ filmmakers acknowledged the routine (if little-known by the public) manipulation and massaging of images, chronologies and words to tell a documentary story. At one end of the continuum is the use (as Martin Smith, producer of cnn’s massive Cold War series suggested) of a 1934 photo of Stalin when you are quoting a 1933 Stalin speech. At the other end, some felt, is Carlton’s The Connection, wherein the filmmakers of the drug exposé, filming a Colombian drug `mule’ (one who ingests illegal drugs for smuggling) flying to London, presents what seems to be one uninterrupted journey, when it was in fact two trips filmed over a six-month span.

Not only did Connection’s executive producer, Roger James, bravely present himself (against his lawyers’ wishes) at a Festival semi-flogging, but the now-suspect film is itself the subject of an internal ITV inquiry, legal action, and two forthcoming documentaries.

Gerry Flahive, NFB


Carlton Television director of programmes, Steve Hewlett, has begun to re-organize his factual programming department following the controversy surrounding The Connection. Hewlett, brought in from C4 to restore morale at the beleaguered company, has replaced controller of factual, Steve Clark, with Polly Bide, a factual filmmaker who most recently held the post of chief advisor, editorial policy at the BBC. Although Bide’s appointment is partly a reflection of her recent policy role, it is believed her programming track record will fit well with the populist touch that had prospered at Carlton prior to The Connection affair. Her executive producer credits include docusoap series such as Airport and Children’s Hospital. Hewlett has also poached Frank Simmonds, a Panorama producer, from the BBC. AF

Adam Barker, co-founder of U.K. indie prodco Blast! Television, has been appointed commissioning editor of Channel 4′s controversial Independent Film and Video Department. He replaces Robin Gutch, who is moving over to head a low budget division within C4′s new film channel Film Four. As part of Blast!, Barker and partner Ed Coulthard have been regular partners for C4 on programs such as The Real ER and, more recently, Daddy’s Girl – which fell victim to a hoax pulled by one of the film’s subjects. Barker, who set up Blast! 5 years ago, takes up his new role in January. AF

Rob Miller has been promoted to the newly created position of president, Unapix North America and, as well, executive VP for television for Unapix Entertainment.

Formerly director of factual programming, Carl Hall, has been named HIT Wildlife’s new managing director. Hall has overseen the HIT NH division since 1996, and is credited with growing the division into a 184-hour catalog, responsible for 30% of the company’s turnover.

Ken Ferguson has been promoted to chief operating officer at National Geographic Television, adding to his plate financial and administrative responsibilities for NGT’s operations, including strategic direction, marketing, and distribution operations.

Stephen Mowbray, recent director of sales for C4 International, has been appointed director of international development for TV Kompaniet AB in Stockholm.

Anthony Utley, recent head of acquisition and development at Carlton International, has been appointed BBC Worldwide’s director of television distribution.

Stephen Kabler has been named to the newly created post of director of business and legal affairs for National Geographic Channels Worldwide.

At Discovery, William Allman has been chosen to be the new general manager of Discovery Channel On-line. Allman will be responsible for leading on-line’s efforts editorially, and for design and marketing. Allman comes from an on-line and journalistic background, and founded the U.S. News and World Report site.

Virginia Egan has been promoted to VP, program operations at Cable Ready.


Carlton International will be sending 200 hours of `Food and Drink’ programming to Amsterdam’s United Pan Communications Europe. The three-year deal will eventually include 600 hours of programming.

National Geographic mainstay Explorer is making the move from TBS to CNBC in September.

Discovery is offering American cable companies $7 to $9 a subscriber as an incentive to get them to launch the Travel Channel. Time Warner is on board, and sources indicate DirecTV could be soon as well.

A recent Nielsen study, commissioned by The Documentary Channel, shows that Americans are watching docs. The numbers indicate as many as 85% of households tune in for factual programs.

TV France International has set out to launch a French-language channel in the U.S. with the Ethnic American Broadcasting Company. EABC will operate the channel, and TVFI will provide the content.

A&E Networks and Multicanal TPS have linked up to operate a daily television channel in Spain named El Canal de Historica.

A one-hour Animal Planet block has begun every Saturday night on India’s Doordarshan metro channel DD II, which reaches 22 million homes.

Discovery has also announced three new distribution agreements in India, Spain, and the Netherlands for home video and CD-ROM. MDM picks up the job in the Netherlands, Planeta – De Agostini in Spain and Portugal, and Seascape in India.

ITN beat out the BBC by getting the rights to produce World News for Public Television in 40 U.S. markets. The news will be available in almost 40% of U.S. homes.

About The Author