Realscreen’s Global 100 for 2013

As the spring of 2014 begins, that signals the arrival of realscreen's annual Global 100 feature, listing the top 100 independent production companies in the unscripted and non-fiction industry, chosen through input from our readers.
April 3, 2014

Once again, it’s Global 100 time, in which realscreen reveals its annual listing of the top 100 independent production companies working in non-fiction and unscripted entertainment, chosen through input from our readers. As in past years, broadcasters, producers, distributors and others in the global non-fiction content industry weighed in, sending along names of trusted production partners including companies that are emerging into the industry with a bang, and those that may have a few years (and hits) under their belts but that continued to bring the goods over the past year.

A caveat: as in past years, you will see on this list production entities that are broadcaster-owned, but that primarily act as producers, often commissioned by other networks. Still, as more networks enter the unscripted and non-fiction arena, competing with established nets that are ramping up their global content requirements, the window of opportunity is opening ever wider for “true indie” prodcos looking to make their mark. And while the content industry will always have its share of challenges and changes, those opportunities will doubtlessly bring more new names into the fold, to sit alongside those who are frequently on this list. Who knows – perhaps someday in the near future, we’ll have to roll out the Global 200. But first things first…

Toronto, ON
Hours: 30
Employees: 8
Recent: The Project: Guatemala; McMorris & McMorris
UPCOMING: As-yet-untitled project with obesity specialist Joanna Dolgoff, assorted scripted projects
After recalibrating his business goals to a ‘less is more’ approach, Buck CEO and founder Sean Buckley restructured the company, selling off his multi-level production facility to focus on content creation and production. A string of partnerships followed: Buckley joined film accelerator Cinecoup as chief content officer, the company teamed with Red Bull Media House to produce the snowboarding reality series McMorris & McMorris for MTV Canada, and partnered with The Buried Life Productions to sell the reality format Break The Pact based on the story of four friends who biked across Canada to raise money for charity.
EOne acquired the U.S. and international rights to Buck’s factual titles The Project: Guatemala and Our Family Vacation, and Buck inked a deal with The Biggest Loser pediatrician Joanna Dolgoff to develop a series about childhood obesity.
Also in 2013, Buck hired John Griffith as head of business affairs.
In the words of one production partner who nominated the company for the Global 100, Buck is “making good TV that doesn’t take the easy way out – being negative or hurtful. They still manage to create good reality drama, tension and conflict, but not at anyone’s expense.
“This is true storytelling and creativity.” Kevin Ritchie (with files from Barry Walsh)

Toronto, ON
Hours: 102
Employees: 20
Recent titles: Hardcore Heroes; Come Dine with Me Canada; Storage Wars Canada
Upcoming: Canada’s Worst Driver season 10

The Canadian indie expanded its presence internationally last year while continuing to make its mark on home turf with local versions of the popular Storage Wars and MasterChef franchises. Its local version of Come Dine with Me for W Network is also a solid performer.
In June, the company took over distributor BuzzTaxi Communications and launched Proper Rights to distribute a catalog of third-party factual content, including documentaries and lifestyle series, as well as Proper-produced shows and formats.
Deals for Don’t Drive Here, Vegas Rat Rods and Last Car Standing soon followed.
In addition to Storage Wars Canada and MasterChef Canada, Proper made a splash on both sides of the North American border with the docudrama series Hardcore Heroes for History in Canada and the Discovery-owned Military Channel in the U.S. (now the American Heroes channel). KR

Cineflix Productions/ Property Brothers, Property Virgins/

Force Four Entertainment/ Border Security: Canada’s Front Line; The Bachelor Canada/

Frantic Films/ ‘Til Debt Do Us Part/

Great Pacific TV/ Highway Thru Hell/

Handel Productions/ Strip the City (with Windfall Films)/

Insight Productions/ The Amazing Race Canada, Big Brother Canada/

Kensington Communications/ Museum Secrets/

Lark Productions/ Real Housewives of Vancouver/

Media Headquarters Film & Television/ Tessa and Scott/

Mercury Films/ Watermark, Payback/

National Film Board of Canada/ Stories We Tell/

Paperny Entertainment/ Yukon Gold, Eat St./

Peacock Alley Entertainment/ Money Moron/

Pivotal Media/ Life Story Project/

Pixcom/ Bomb Hunters, License to Drill/

Storyline Entertainment/ The Real Inglorious Bastards/

Temple Street Productions/ Recipe to Riches, Over the Rainbow/

Zone 3/ God, Guns and Automobiles/


JIGSAW PRODUCTIONS (a Content Media company)
New York City
EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time; 65+ freelance
HOURS: 14 (TV), six features on slate for 2014-2015
Recent titles: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God; The Armstrong Lie; We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Upcoming: Frank Sinatra documentary, Finding Fela

Word has it that there’s a movement afoot to have the term “See: Alex Gibney” added to the standard dictionary definition of the word “prolific.” The director and producer’s work slate for 2013 would certainly back up such a move.
His Lance Armstrong project, begun in 2009 and shelved after the doping scandal involving the cyclist broke, was resuscitated following Armstrong’s confession resulting in The Armstrong Lie. Meanwhile, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks attracted strong reviews as well as the ire of the secretive organization and its head, Julian Assange, with both Assange and Gibney providing annotated transcripts for the project in what seemed like a real war of words.
These films followed another controversial project that made waves beyond the film world – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, a look at cases of clerical sex abuse produced with HBO Documentary Films and licensed to broadcasters around the world following its explosive theatrical run, thanks in part to the company’s partnership with Content Media, a pact established in 2013.
Perhaps less controversially, Gibney also produced The History of The Eagles, directed by Allison Ellwood.
2014, which has already started strong thanks to the CNN series Death Row Stories, coproduced with Sundance Productions, will also see a four-hour Frank Sinatra documentary, again with HBO on board. Also, Finding Fela, his documentary on the life of Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti, premiered at Sundance to positive reviews. BW

LEFTFIELD PICTURES (A Leftfield Entertainment company)
New York City
Hours: 136
Employees: 260
Recent titles: Blood, Sweat and Heels; American Restoration; Pawn Stars; Oddities
Current/upcoming: Tobacco Wars; Celebrity Home Raiders

Perhaps the biggest news surrounding Leftfield Pictures in 2013 involved its becoming part of a larger entity, but not one of the deep-pocketed suitors that have snapped up other companies on this list. Instead of courting a sale, Leftfield Pictures’ founder and CEO Brent Montgomery elected to establish his own super-indie, Leftfield Entertainment, and acquired Sirens Media (who you will also see in this year’s Global 100) while also establishing joint ventures with Nick Rigg (Loud TV) and Jodi Flynn (Outpost Entertainment).
Meanwhile, the flagship prodco continued to grow in 2013, broadening its horizons with the docusoap Blood, Sweat and Heels for Bravo, which gave the NBCUniversal cable net its highest-rated series premiere to date. Established hits continued to perform well, with American Restoration and Counting Cars for History still driving big numbers, and Science’s Oddities five seasons deep.
And of course, we can’t forget Pawn Stars, still a crown jewel for History, and which made its international format debut in 2013 via Pawn Stars UK and Pawn Stars Australia, currently in production. BW

North Hollywood, CA
Hours: 250
Employees: 700
Recent titles: Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives; Fast n’ Loud; Lindsay; Wicked Tuna
Upcoming: Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks; Bring It!

The company behind the long-running paranormal favorite Ghost Hunters on Syfy and the MMA series Ultimate Fighter – now on Fox following its long Spike run – racked up a wide range of successes in 2013. Its relationship with OWN blossomed, as Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s went into a third season, while new series Raising Whitley opened strong with 1.2 million viewers, and received an extended season. Also for OWN, its docuseries featuring the headline-grabbing Lindsay Lohan debuted in March.
For Discovery, the high-octane car show Fast n’ Loud raced to pole position as the number one cable program for all male demos on Monday nights. And let’s not forget Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, the “mockumentary” that kicked off 2013′s ‘Shark Week’ to the tune of 4.8 million viewers, making it the highest-rated telecast in the strand’s history.
Word has it that there may be a follow-up to the controversial special, and the company also has a spin-off for its hit National Geographic Channel series, Wicked Tuna, on deck. BW

Hours: 236
Employees: 20
Recent titles: Catfish: The TV Show; The Great Food Truck Race
Upcoming: Meatheads; America’s Best Cook; Bet the House; Web of Lies

Relativity continued to produce buzzworthy programming in 2013 in the form of reality docudrama Catfish for MTV, GSN’s American Bible Challenge and the Sundance series The Writer’s Room, in which scribes from top scripted series talk craft. This year could be a headline grabber for the prodco, after U.S. cable net WE tv greenlit a pilot based on the controversial British special Sex Box, a sex advice series that features three couples making love in a giant, soundproof box.
The company also promoted Julie Link to executive vice president of development overseeing sales and new projects; executive producer Dean Ollins to senior vice president of development overseeing pilot production; and executive producer Jon Beyer to senior vice president overseeing all series production. In the children’s space, Relativity inked a first-look production deal with Shuki Levy, co-founder of Saban Entertainment and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
Other projects for 2014 span a wide range of networks, including: Meatheads for NGC; America’s Best Cook for Food Network; Bet the House and Unliveable for FYI; Resort Rescue for Travel Channel; Web of Lies for TLC; and the scripted series Young and Hungry for ABC Family. KR

EMPLOYEES: 15 full-time, 100+ freelance
RECENT TITLES: The Men Who Built America; Redrum; Gold Fever
UPCOMING: The World Wars; The West; American Genius; Sons of Liberty

Launched in 2010, New York-based production and post-production company Stephen David Entertainment (SDE) has forged a bright future for itself by turning a lens to the past and specializing in docudrama, documentary and non-fiction. Hit History event series The Men Who Built America, an undertaking president Stephen David had envisioned since the mid-’90s, follows the builders who transformed a weakened post-Civil War U.S. into a world superpower. Since airing in the fall of 2012, the show picked up two Primetime Emmys for costume and sound editing, and was nominated in non-fiction categories for best series, writing and cinematography. In January, the prodco had great success with murder investigation series Redrum for Investigation Discovery, which broke the network’s primetime ratings record, and in October, SDE debuted the four-part series Gold Fever for Discovery, which followed the 40-person Boston Group that journeyed west to strike it rich during California’s Gold Rush.
This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the First and Second World Wars, the group will produce World Wars, a six-hour series for History and H2 that will detail three decades of war from the perspectives of leaders such as Winston Churchill and Benito Mussolini. In addition, SDE will revisit U.S. history when it teams up with Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn’s Sundance Productions to explore the aftermath of the country’s Civil War in The West. Manori Ravindran

New York City
Hours: 60.5
Employees: 31
Recent titles: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown; The Layover; The Mind of a Chef
Upcoming: Series in development for Syfy and National Geographic Channel
A decade after executive producers Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia founded Zero Point Zero (partner and managing director Joe Caterini joined in 2009), the company’s name is synonymous with high-quality travel and culinary programming thanks to globetrotting chef Anthony Bourdain, whose CNN ratings hit Parts Unknown nabbed two Emmys last year and featured episodes shot in Myanmar and Libya.
Also in 2013, the company acquired the Food Republic website, one of the launch properties in its food/lifestyle-focused digital publishing venture that will also include Steven Rinella’s MeatEater website, a partnership with cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and several YouTube channels and web series.
Other highlights from the prodco include Esquire Network’s The Getaway, exec produced by Bourdain and featuring a host of travel-hungry celebrities hanging out in their favorite destinations; PBS’s The Mind of a Chef, again exec produced and narrated by Bourdain and combining travel, food, cooking and science; and The Tim Ferris Experiment for HLN and upwave, which sees its host and author of The 4-Hour Body apply his rapid-learning approach to new, daunting tasks. In the near future, the company has series in development at Syfy and National Geographic Channel and is also in internal development on a number of scripted projects. KR (with files from BW)

495 Productions (a FremantleMedia company)/ Tattoo Nightmares, Snooki & Jwoww/

51 Minds (an Endemol company)/ Below Deck, Redneck Island/

Atlas Media Corp./ Hotel Impossible, Stalked: Someone’s Watching/

Authentic Entertainment (an Endemol company)/ Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis/

Bunim/Murray Productions (a Banijay company)/ Project Runway, Keeping Up with the Kardashians/

Collins Avenue (a Content Media Corp company)/ Dance Moms, Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition/

Embassy Row (a Sony Pictures Television company)/ Fashion Queens/

Evolution Media/ The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/

Eyeworks USA (an Eyeworks company)/ Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, Bar Rescue/

Flight 33 Productions/ Big History, Deadliest Space Weather/

FremantleMedia North America (an RTL Group company)/ American Idol/

GRB Entertainment/ Pregnant & Dating/

Gurney Productions (an ITV company)/ Duck Dynasty/

Half Yard Productions (a Red Arrow Entertainment company)/ Say Yes to the Dress, Hillbilly Handfishin’/

High Noon Entertainment (an ITV company)/ Cake Boss, Tough Love/

Hot Snakes Media/ Breaking Amish LA, Amish Mafia/

ITV Studios America/ Hell’s Kitchen, The Chase/

Left/Right (a Red Arrow Entertainment company)/ Mob Wives, Small Town Security/

LMNO Productions/ The Little Couple, Deadly Wives/

Magical Elves (a Tinopolis company)/ Top Chef, Braxton Family Values/

Magilla Entertainment/ Long Island Medium, Moonshiners/

Megalomedia/ Shipping Wars, My 600 Lb. Life/

North South Productions (a Hearst/NorthSouth company)/ Impractical Jokers, Double Divas/

One Three Media (a Hearst/Mark Burnett company)/ Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank

Optomen (an All3Media company)/ Scorned: Love Kills, Monsters Inside Me/

Original Media (an Endemol company)/ Swamp People, Dual Survival/

Original Productions (a FremantleMedia company)/ Storage Wars, Deadliest Catch/

Peacock Productions (an NBC News company)/ Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones/

Ping Pong Productions/ Finding Bigfoot, Stranded/

Profiles Television/ The Amazing Race

Renegade 83/ Naked and Afraid/

Scott Free Productions/ Springsteen & I, Crimes of the Century/

Sharp Entertainment (a Core Media Group company)/ Doomsday Preppers, Man V. Food/

Shed Media U.S. (a Shed Media Group company)/ Real Housewives of NYC, America’s Supernanny/

Shine America (a Shine Group company)/ MasterChef U.S., The Face/

Sirens Media (a Leftfield Entertainment company)/ Thicker than Water, Real Housewives of New Jersey/

A. Smith & Co. (a Tinopolis company)/ Kitchen Nightmares (with Optomen, ITV Studios America)/

T Group Productions/ Mystery Diners, Thingamabob/

Thinkfactory Media (an ITV company)/ Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas, R&B Divas/

Warrior Poets/ Inside Man with Morgan Spurlock, One Direction: This is Us/

World of Wonder/ Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Million Dollar Listing/

Zodiak Americas (a Zodiak Media company)/ Killer Karaoke, Hardcore Pawn/

Hours: 38
Employees: 50-100, depending on production
Recent: Dogs: Their Secret Lives; JFK: The Lost Tapes; Live From Space
Upcoming: Jumbo: The Plane that Changed the World; Kevin McCloud’s Mechanibals (w/t)

Established in 2011, Arrow Media was founded by John Smithson, Tom Brisley and Iain Pelling, all of whom were colleagues at Darlow Smithson Productions. In its few years of operation, it has racked up a range of commissions for an equally wide group of broadcasters, including Channel 4, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Sky, BBC 2, and scores of others.
Programming highlights from the past year that illustrate Arrow’s scope include Dogs: Their Secret Lives for C4, Animal Fight Night for Nat Geo Wild, and JFK: The Lost Tapes for Discovery. Aviation-themed series are somewhat of a specialty, with Ultimate Airport Dubai for National Geographic Channels International and Terror in the Skies for C4 and Smithsonian Channel performing solidly.
But perhaps the company’s most ambitious undertaking, March’s Live From Space event for National Geographic Channel and C4, will prove to be its highest-flying ratings success to date. The breadth of programming the company has tackled thus far bodes well for more big commissions, with one broadcaster and Global 100 voter hailing the company as its “most creative” production partner. BW

Hours: 30
Employees: 90
Recent titles: The Bigfoot Files, River Monsters

The company behind River Monsters, the show that turned rough-and-ready angler Jeremy Wade into an international television star, saw several successes over the past year. Season five of the Animal Planet hit notched up its highest numbers to date, making it the most popular series in the Discovery Communications net’s history.
The Bigfoot Files saw presenter Mark Evans and geneticist Bryan Sykes put the mystery of Sasquatch through rigorous scientific testing, with the end result being a ratings winner for Channel 4 and later, for National Geographic Channel.
Meanwhile, for Nat Geo Wild, Icon snared Betty White to host a tour of three of America’s top zoos and safari parks in Betty White Goes Wild, and for BBC4, the prodco dove into its first rig show, Animals Through the Night: Sleepover at the Zoo, which posted cameras and sensors at the Bristol Zoo to capture what animals really do when the zookeepers are asleep.
For the year ahead, while not naming specific projects, managing director Laura Marshall says the company has “some very fresh adventure programming coming up, a couple of very beautiful and important natural history shows and, of course, some more River Monsters.” BW

Hours: 33.5
Employees: 35 – 50
Recent titles: The Great Bake Off series 4; The Great British Sewing Bee series 2; How Sherlock Changed the World; Cruel Cut; Benefits Street
Upcoming: Famous, Rich & Hungry (Sports Relief); My Last Summer; Classic Cars

With licensing deals for baking competition format The Great Bake Off in 13 countries, including U.S. broadcaster CBS, you could say Richard McKerrow and Anna Beattie’s 10-year-old production company is fully baked. In 2013, Love locked down series four of The Great British Bake Off and further expanded the franchise to a ‘Masterclass’ strand and Christmas special while kicking off the second series of Junior Bake Off. The UK-based indie also took a more serious turn with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) documentary The Cruel Cut for Channel 4, which followed FGM crusader and survivor Leyla Hussein and her campaign to eradicate FGM in the UK.
This year, Love is courting controversy with docuseries Benefits Street for Channel 4. Following its January debut, the series – which profiles the residents of a low-income Birmingham, England, neighborhood – has garnered over 60,000 signatures to date on an online petition demanding its cancellation, while posting the network’s highest ratings in more than a year. Show critics call it “poverty porn” but the group maintains it’s an accurate and much-needed representation of poverty in Britain. All’s fair in Love and television. MR

Hours: 57
Employees: 91
Recent/current titles: Railroad Alaska; A Murder Trial; Easter Eggs Live; D Day as it Happens; Strip the City
Upcoming: Crossrail; Rise of the Machines; Operation Maneater; The Batman of Mexico
After three years of negotiations, British history was made when the Scottish High Court allowed Windfall producers to film the retrial of Nat Fraser, charged with murdering his wife in 1998, marking the first time cameras have been allowed to film and air a British trial in its entirety. The feature-length documentary A Murder Trial, which aired on Channel 4, recently won best single documentary at the Broadcast Awards as well as the best single doc prize at the Royal Television Society Awards.
The East London-based prodco, founded in 1987 by David Dugan, Ian Duncan and Oliver Morse, is known for strong science and history programming such as Inside Nature’s Giants for Channel 4, Monster Moves for Channel 5 and Big Bigger Biggest for National Geographic, but had a unique 2013 line-up that included real-time 24-hour history event D Day as it Happens on Channel 4, which followed the activities of seven people who lived through the day using archival video, radio reports and official records; and Destination America’s Railroad Alaska, where a crew of workers fights the elements to keep the state’s crucial 650-mile railroad up and running. Behind the scenes, the East London-based prodco was recently acquired by global production group Argonon – a move that will help Windfall receive ample resources to expand into the U.S. and Canada. MR

Atlantic Productions/ David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive/

Blink Films/ World’s Top Five, What Destroyed the Hindenburg?/

Brook Lapping (a Ten Alps company)/ The Iraq War, Thatcher: A Memoir/

Darlow Smithson (an Endemol company)/ 9-11: Voices from the Air, Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design/

Dragonfly (a Shine Group company)/ One Born Every Minute, The Hotel/

Firecracker Films (a Tinopolis company)/ We’re Having a Baby, My Big Fat Gypsy Valentine/

The Garden (an ITV company)/ Keeping Britain Alive, Inside Claridges/

KEO Films/ Skint, River Cottage/

Lion Television (an All3Media company)/ Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve, Rebuilding the World Trade Center/

Lime Pictures (an All3Media company)/ The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore/

Maverick Television/ Embarrassing Bodies, Stephen Fry: Out There/

Minnow Films/ Dogging Tales, Walking Wounded: Return to the Frontline/

Nutopia/ The 80s: The Decade that Made Us/

Oxford Film & TV/ Our Queen, The Story of the Jews/

Pioneer Productions (a Tinopolis company)/ How Sex Works, Strangest Weather on Earth/

Raw TV (a Discovery Communications company)/ Blackout, The Unexplained Files, Gold Rush/

Renegade Pictures (a Shed Media company)/ Car SOS, Don’t Tell the Bride/

Studio Lambert (an All3Media company)/ Gogglebox, Undercover Boss/

Thames (a FremantleMedia UK company)/ X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent/

Tigress Productions (an Endemol company)/ Naked and Marooned/

Twofour Broadcast (a Boom Pictures company)/ Educating Yorkshire/

Wall to Wall (a Shed Media company)/ The Voice UK, Long Lost Family/


Employees: 30, approx. 500 freelance
Hours: 90
Recent: Make Love; Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me; An Apartment in Berlin
Upcoming: Viking Women; Mali Blues

Founded in 2000 by brothers Reinhardt and Christian Beetz, Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion has been a steady force in the European documentary and factual programming sphere for over a decade, with more than 100 titles in its catalog. Winners of Germany’s prestigious Grimme television award and the Prix Europa, and Oscar nominated for the 2012 doc short Open Heart, GBF has recently been making significant inroads in cross-media content production, with its ‘Culture Files’ series, which spawned the award-winning Wagner Files app; its six-part Farewell Comrades series, produced for a host of European broadcasters including ARTE, ZDF and YLE among others; and the controversial “trimedia” series Make Love for SWR and MDR all gathering much acclaim.
Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me (a realscreen MIPTV Pick) is bound to garner attention in the months following the South African leader’s passing, and the doc An Apartment in Berlin is in the midst of a festival run. BW


Beyond International/ MythBusters/Sydney/
Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder/JFK: The Smoking Gun, Go Back to Where You Came From/Chippendale, NSW/
Endemol/The Money Drop, Big Brother/Amsterdam/
Nilaya Productions/Coca-Cola: The Secret Formula, The Naked Warriors/Paris/
Talpa Productions/The Voice Holland, Dating in the Dark/The Netherlands/

(Illustration: Matthew Daley for Shiny Pliers)

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