Pioneer sticks to its roots

At the end of last year, UK indie Pioneer Productions was acquired by Tinopolis Group. Pioneer's MD, Stuart Carter, says so far the move doesn't mean big changes for the company; rather it means strengthening its current identity.
January 13, 2010

In its 18 years as an indie prodco, Pioneer Productions has focused on specialist factual output, mainly in the realms of science and history. And while the company was purchased by Tinopolis Group in October of last year, MD co- founder Stuart Carter believes that mandate won’t be changing any time soon. ‘Certainly [Tinopolis] expect us to continue with specialist factual, a large focus on America as well as Britain, global coproductions; that’s what they bought into and that’s what we’re continuing to do.’

Including its acquisition at the end of the year, 2009 was a very busy year for the prodco. It included landing a fair amount of programming on C4, Discovery Channel U.S. and Nat Geo as well as numerous awards and success for its coproduction with Handel Productions, Journey to the Edge of the Universe. It also saw success with its series for History (U.S.), How the Earth Was Made. ‘Geology has been a growth area for sciences,’ notes Carter. The company is currently in production on a second season of the series and Carter hopes it will see the greenlight for a third season shortly.

The key to making it through 2009 in good shape, says Carter, was following three ‘common sense’ strategies. One is having a diverse list of clients – ‘One [channel] is always going to go a bit quieter than the others’ – while not just sticking to production for one country and being nimble on its feet, keeping overheads low. ‘Those are just three common sense strategies that probably apply not only in a recession but outside of a recession as well,’ says Carter. In 2009 Pioneer also endeavored to have ongoing contracts with channels and spent the second half of the year making sure its relationships with clients remained strong.

While 2010 looks to include a continued focus on science and history programs for Pioneer, since joining Tinopolis the company has added Alex Williamson as executive producer in charge of upping the focus on popular factual. ‘All these different areas of factual – factual entertainment, populist factual, specialist factual – all overlap in some kind of complex Venn diagram,’ says Carter. ‘We felt that if we were just identified as specialist factual we were missing out on many other areas that we actually have produced in and are able to produce in. So we thought we should be a bit more visible about it.’ Though Williamson’s role isn’t exclusively to up production in Britain, Pioneer has traditionally done a lot of work for American channels and is hoping to get a bit more work in the British market this year.

Pioneer already has a couple of projects on the slate for the UK in 2010, including two projects for C4: a quick turnaround doc on Britain’s abnormally cold winter weather and a seven-part series on the Bible (The Bible: A History) with each one-hour episode hosted by a different cultural or political figure, including Al-Jazeera journalist Rageh Ommar and MP Ann Widecombe. The company is also revisiting a channel that launched its business in the U.S. but that it hasn’t worked with in six or seven years – TLC. ‘We used to do a lot of TLC, then we kind of moved to Nat Geo and Discovery. Now they’re a very different beast and so we’re going to do much more human interest stuff for them.’

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.