Rudy Buttignol one year into his presidency at Knowledge Network

Well known for his years at TVOntario and as one of the friendliest moderators at IDFA's Forum, Rudy Buttignol discusses the future of British Columbia's Knowledge Network now that he's settled in after a year as its president and CEO.
September 22, 2008

Rudy Buttignol, president and CEO of Knowledge Network, British Columbia’s public educational broadcaster, is a pillar in the international doc community. Before taking over as president and CEO of Knowledge Network just over a year ago, he was TVOntario’s creative head of network programming and worked as commissioning editor there previous to that. Fresh after revealing Knowledge’s fall launch show reel as well as the channel’s new positioning statement – ‘Knowledge: Pass it On’ – Buttignol chatted with realscreen.

How have you adjusted to your role at Knowledge Network?
It’s amazing how quickly a year goes by; it simultaneously feels like yesterday and forever. But, yes, I’ve adjusted very well to being a president and CEO, even though it had been 13 years since I had last headed a company. Actually, it has felt like a natural career progression. During my time at TVO, I had developed strong ideas about the direction of public broadcasting, and now I’m in a position to put these into practice. Having a supportive board of directors that shares the same philosophy makes all the difference.

You formed a strategic plan to transform Knowledge Network into an independent public educational media service, while maintaining its mandate and government’s public policy objectives. What were the main points in your strategy?
My strategy was to transform Knowledge from a traditional broadcaster to an all-digital media service while maintaining our public service values. The main points of the strategy are:

1) Brand and re-launch the broadcaster as an all-digital, 24/7, commercial-free, public, educational media service.

2) Build a sustainable foundation by restructuring the organization, eliminating in-house production, and working exclusively with independent producers.

3) Increase self-generated revenue through a)media partnerships with government, business and organizations b) launching an endowment fund to support original programming c) expanding our base of voluntary donations by increasing the number of new ‘Partners in Knowledge,’ currently at 26,000 households.

4) Increase original programming for television and the Internet, specifically in children, documentary, and performing arts specials, and by launching a live, nightly showcase for arts, culture and public affairs.

5) Expand our partnerships with independent producers through acquisitions, pre-buys and commissions.

What’s the best way for producers with docs to pitch Knowledge?
The best way to pitch docs to Knowledge is by contacting our creative director, Murray Battle, or our coordinator for independent production, Patrice Ramsey.

How much of your schedule is filled with docs/non-fiction content?
We’re launching six new documentary strands in primetime. A lot of the content will be acquired, but we are planning to pre-buy and commission new work as funds become available. We have about eight hours of drama in primetime. The rest is documentary and other non-fiction programming. In other words, if you love documentaries, we’re the place for you.

You’ve spent time working as a media consultant and addressing the subject of the international marketing of docs. What are some of the main things producers must consider to market their docs effectively?
The biggest single thing that producers need to consider to market their work internationally is knowledge of the international tastes, priorities and trends. Producers need to commit to learning about what broadcasters in other territories are looking for. It can start with attendance at festivals, markets and co-financing forums, but it needs to continue with the building of relationships and constant follow-ups. Realistic self-assessment really helps as well. You have to constantly ask yourself, ‘Is this subject or treatment or point-of-view truly global, or is it parochial?’

Outside of work, how has the transition been moving from Toronto to Vancouver?
I’m thrilled to be living in Vancouver. It’s a beautiful place of course – I’ve always known that. But there’s something uniquely different about living on the west coast; a sense of optimism, I think.

I’ve been welcomed most graciously and genuinely by all. My wife and I also love the idea that we’re closer to our granddaughter, Stella, who lives in Calgary. And we both love the weather. We’ll take the rain any time over the snow.

Fun question: who will you support this winter – the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Vancouver Canucks?
This is the toughest question of all. Both teams have really dedicated fans, like myself, and both teams kind of suck. But I did buy the NHL package just so I could see all the out-of-market games.

For more on Knowledge Network’s new initiatives, click here.

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