News in Brief

PBS welcomes the 30-second spot; PACT speaks out against Discovery/Nat Geo clause; NHK captures the ends of the earth
February 13, 2003

The board of directors at the U.S.’s Public Broadcasting System have voted to boost underwriter messages to 30 seconds from 15 seconds for sponsors spending at least US$2.5 million annually on the pubcaster’s primetime programming, reports the L.A. Times. PBS executives hope the increase time allotment will lure corporations in a soft advertising market. As many as 26 of PBS’s top regional stations have already adopted the longer plugs, the newspaper said. The Times also noted that in January, Los Angeles station KCET laid off 14 staff due to the funding crisis.

Independent U.K. producers’ group PACT has declared Discovery’s new non-competitive clause, which prohibits coproductions that receive 15% or more of their funding from Discovery from being sold to Nat Geo in any territory for five years (See RealScreen January 2003), as ‘detrimental to the interests of independent factual producers.’ In a prepared statement issued February 5, the group says it has discussed the clause with the Bethesda, U.S.-based company, but Discovery remains unmoved regarding ‘the offending clause.’ PACT says it understands Discovery’s drive to protect its brand, yet ‘this should not be at the expense of indies’ ability to raise the finance needed.’

Japanese pubcaster NHK is spearheading an eight-country coproduction that will shed light on Asia’s growing environmental problems. Called ‘Voyage to the Future’, the multi-part special will target children and will discuss the ecological issues in each of the participating countries. It will also investigate the plight of the oceans. The partners are: China Central Television, Doordarshan India, Korean Broadcasting System, Radio Television Malaysia, Singapore’s MediaCorp, Thailand’s CH9 and CH11 and Vietnam Television. The program will run from March to October.

In other NHK news, the pubcaster marked its 50th anniversary on February 1st by successfully executing the first live high-definition transmission from Antarctica. In April it is planning to simultaneously broadcast in HD from both Poles, showing two angles of the same solar aurora (known as Northern and Southern lights). In November it plans to broadcast live HD images of a total eclipse caught by cameras on high-flying aircraft.

AETN International has agreed to jointly brand a Sunday-night doc strand on German broadcaster ZDF. The strand is called ‘ZDF History’ and features both ZDF-funded films and acquisitions. It launched February 9 and is hosted by Guido Knopp, head of the department of history and current affairs for ZDF German Television Network. The History Channel now hits 150 million homes in 60 countries.

The U.S. Congress is setting aside US$100 million to fund the collection and preservation of digital information by the Library of Congress, reports The New York Times. Everything from digital photos to CDs to web pages and electronic journals will be collected. The private sector is expected to fork over additional funds of roughly $75 million.

ITN Archive has struck a five-year, world-wide licensing deal to distribute Al Jazeera’s footage archive. The agreement unveiled February 12 sees London, U.K.-based ITN making the Arab news channel’s shot list available at //

Koch Lorber Films is the name of a new DVD label that will carry independent documentaries, as well as fiction films. Announced February 10, the label is distributed by New York, U.S.-based Koch Entertainment. The label will launch in the second quarter of 2003 and will release between 20 to 24 titles – of all kinds – each year. New York’s Lorber Media is a partner in the venture.

Fireworks Factual, a unit of Canadian prodco Fireworks Entertainment launched last summer (See Plus June 13, 2002), is seeking international coproduction partners as part of its push into reality formats and infotainment programming. Fireworks Factual also recently signed a first-option deal with Lonely Planet Television for the available international distribution rights to new Lonely Planet programs.

Canadian prodco Toronto Pictures has launched a film-financing engine. Called the Toronto Pictures Film Investors Network, it is seeking individuals from around the world interested in funding non-fiction and fiction TV and film projects. It plans to entice investors with initially high returns on investments and a percentage of the box-office in-take.

New York, U.S.-based Major Broadcasting Cable Network has launched a 24-hour African American news channel. Called MBC News: The Urban Voice it is touted as the first of its kind in the U.S. (With a focus on current events, doc slots are a good bet to crop up in its schedule down the road). As many as 70% of African American households watch primetime programming, MBC said. MBC hits roughly 24 million U.S. homes.

Documentary productions that are eligible for tax credits in Canada totaled Cdn$316 million (US$208 million) in 2001-2002, up 31% from the previous year, reports the Canadian Film and Television Production Association. Docs in Canada received about two-thirds of their financing from broadcasters and public sources in 2001-2002. During that time, France was Canada’s top partner for coproductions – of all kinds — paying roughly $280 million (US$184 million) or 35% of Canada-based projects. The U.K. slid to number two at $248 million (US$163 million) or 31% from number one the year earlier, and Australia was third with $92 million (US$61 million) or 12%. Private, specialty and pay television services in the country spent a total of $413 million (US$272 million) in the same period with Canadian independent prodcos of all kinds, including docs, the association said.

U.S. net CBS’s proposed reality-take on classic Hollywood sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies is being met with resistance by the folks who live the lifestyle the show plans to parody (See Plus September 5). CBS president and chief executive Leslie Moonves held a one-hour meeting with the Whitesburg, U.S.-based Center for Rural Strategies on February 11, reports the L.A. Times. Critics say Hillbillies will unfairly stereotype the inhabitants of the Appalachian Mountains, a region in the Eastern U.S. characterized by isolation and poverty.

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