World Congress ’16: Broadcasters fight back

STOCKHOLM – In the city where Alfred Nobel was born, and where the world’s top minds in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature are annually celebrated, it’s only fitting that the ...
December 6, 2016

STOCKHOLM – In the city where Alfred Nobel was born, and where the world’s top minds in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature are annually celebrated, it’s only fitting that the 2016 World Congress of Science and Factual Producers draw inspiration from one of its newest and best-known Nobel Prize laureates.

Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing” set the theme of this year’s event, which brings together producers, broadcasters and distributors working in specialist factual television, this year in Stockholm, Sweden.

What’s driving that change and how the industry is responding was highlighted Dec. 6 at the buzz-worthy morning session, “What’s the Buzz”, hosted by Swedish television personality and producer Victoria Dyring and science and engineering-based YouTuber Derek Muller (Veritasium).

The pair opened the session with a look at the undeniable impact of digital on traditional broadcasters as they look to stay relevant amid a proliferation of new digital platforms, technical innovations and rapidly evolving consumer viewing habits.

These days, noted Dyring, “everyone is a broadcaster… Now all you need is a smartphone with a live app like Facebook Live or (Twitter’s) Periscope.”

The drive to reach young, digitally savvy audiences is seeing many non-traditional players dive into the broadcasting space, finding not just new stories to tell, but also new ways (and platforms) to tell those stories.

Google’s Rio: Beyond the Map (pictured), for instance, showcases the rich lives of people living in Brazil’s poorest urban neighborhoods via user-generated content and 360-degree technology; while the New York Times explores modern China’s hyper-connected youth in its online documentary How China is Changing the Internet.

Video gaming companies, meanwhile, are further pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the likes of Microsoft-owned Xbox, for example, using a pioneering technique of “real-time” cinematography (a blend of real people and CGI) to create detailed interactive scenes in a matter of minutes.

The session also highlighted the growing impact of streaming services on documentary production and distribution — from global giant Netflix, which recently bowed the award-winning documentary The Ivory Game, to niche SVODs CuriosityStream and Yado.

For their part, broadcasters are putting up a fight against the competition, using genre-busting techniques, breakthrough science, technological advances and human connection to grab and hold viewers’ time, money and attention.

Among the notable projects from the past year mentioned were:

  • National Geographic’s series Mars, from executive producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, which blends scripted and unscripted techniques to tell the story of mankind’s quest to colonize the titular planet.
  • BBC’s Planet Earth II, a 4K immersion into animal behavior and billed as the most-expensive natural history series undertaken to date.
  • Channel 4′s How to Build a Human, which saw Gemma Chan, the star of the science fiction series Humans, explore Artificial Intelligence through the construction of an AI version of herself.
  • Beijing-based CCTV Creative Media’s wildly interactive game show Come On To The Future, which immerses the studio audience in science-based experiments.
  •  ABC’s (Australia) Man Up series, which tackles the difficult and emotional reasons behind the country’s high suicide rates among young men.
  •  SVT’s doc series The Experiments, exploring real science, and real-life toll, behind Paolo Macchiarini’s claims to have invented a ground-breaking method to create synthetic human organs.

Earlier, Hanna Stjarne, managing director of the Swedish national pubcaster SVT, took to the centre stage to address what she termed “a more frightening” trend that threatens the factual industry.

For the first time this year, she said, the term “fact resistance” has entered the Swedish — and global — vocabulary. The term refers to the growing number of people who are increasingly intolerant of ideas that do not support their own beliefs.

“How do you deal with that as a producer in the TV sector?” she asked.

Stjarne said SVT has chosen to answer that question by developing a strategy that strengthens the Swedish pubcasters’s commitment to stories that make citizens “more inquisitive and more informed.”

“We will be really stubborn when it comes to highlighting facts,” she said.

The WCSFP conference continues until Thursday, Dec. 8 in Stockholm, Sweden.

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