Chances are good the majority of pitches heard during November’s Forum for International Co-financing of Documentaries in Amsterdam will be for one-off docs. Yet, the worldwide doc market seems to be demanding series over singles. Is this apparent chasm simply the differing needs of commercial cable channels versus those of terrestrial pubcasters or are there other factors at play?
Head of documentaries, arts and culture
I’m basically looking for singles. Series are difficult, because I have only weekly slots. Sometimes we have two- or three-part documentaries, but it’s unusual. For my Sunday night 11:00 p.m. slots, we’re looking for everything from 30 minutes to 120 minutes. For other slots, we usually have one-hours.
In the German-speaking market, the audience is not used to series. Sometimes there are arts and culture series about museums or painters, but they’re usually singles that have been combined as a series.
We want docs with a cultural angle. The most important thing is the visual approach. The films should be high quality and story driven. If possible, they should be very personal stories. We transmit about 90 docs a year… about 45% of which we get involved with production.
Controller of documentaries and contemporary factualbr/
There’s a desire to find long-running programs that return every week. We have programs like Top Gear, Gardeners’ World, and so on, [but] there’s a desire to find new brands that can run for half the year. They often form the backbone of a schedule and the identity of the channel.
There’s also a desire for more landmark pieces. You wouldn’t want to schedule too branded and stranded. You need events in the schedule that break up that pattern. BBC2 is trying to get impact through big single documentaries. They’re there to attract attention and feel really contemporary. Between independent filmmakers and in-house, we’re looking for about eight. On BBC1, there are two series of ‘One Life’ a year of about seven episodes each.
Jean Noel Robyn
Head of acquisitions
We never prioritize series. As with most cable and satellite channels in France, we are not that rich. In order to save money, we do multi transmissions of seven or eight. With series, although every episode is different, the main theme is the same. For the viewer, that gives the impression that it’s always the same thing onscreen.
Documentary channels used to have mostly hours, but this is a bit boring for the audience. People have been raised with video games, so everything has to go quicker. Having hours, half-hours and even 15-minute and short programs of five to seven minutes creates a more dynamic pace.
Odyssée’s [mission] is ‘discovering the world,’ so we program intelligent travel (not tourism), wildlife, nature and social issues. Like everyone else, we’re [targeting] women and young viewers because that’s what’s preferred by advertisers.
Exec VP of content
Nat Geo Channels International, U.S.
We have preferred series to one-offs for years. You need regular appointment viewing. By and large, there’s very limited room for the [one-off] docs [pitched at forums]. Public broadcasters still have slots for single docs and there’s channels like Sundance and the Independent Film Channel that have created slots for indie docs. Also, one of our strands launching in the spring called ‘No Borders,’ will run feature docs. It’ll be a showcase for international filmmakers. But most of these shows won’t end up on the commercial networks.
I look for series that are sustainable – series that have a sharp focus, so it’s easy for the audience to understand what the episode is about and what the series is ultimately about.
I don’t look for personalities or hosts, because our series have to travel internationally. I primarily look for hours. We’ve done six and 13 (part series), but you need a minimum of six to test if a series really has legs.