CANNES – In the last year, several major cable nets have moved towards a “bigger, better, fewer” programming strategy that places an emphasis on the tentpole led by recognizable talent.
National Geographic is one of the many networks currently undergoing one of the most profound evolutions in its 128-year history, where a premium content strategy has taken center stage.
Working closely with his colleagues in the U.S. under the leadership of Courteney Monroe and Tim Pastore, National Geographic Global Networks’ executive VP of programming and development Hamish Mykura has been focused on making the channel the standout place for science, adventure, exploration and anthropology – the basic values of what audiences think National Geographic stands for.
“To do that, we’re really trying to get these standout programs we can market and promote worldwide,” the exec told delegates during a MIPDoc commissioning panel April 1.
He added: “As we go further into this premium strategy, what I find is it becomes easier and easier to get top people to work with you because they start to see what’s on air. It’s really starting to gain momentum in an excellent way.
“There are places where we can negotiate on rights in particular territories. It’s always worth coming to us even if the rights might be sold to one terrestrial broadcaster in one particular territory – that’s not always a deal breaker for us and it depends on the project.”
“Really big, breakthrough ideas are hard to find. Sometimes it’s an unexpected company that brings you those ideas and you can assemble the relationships required to create them around them.” – Hamish Mykura
That strategy has already paid dividends for the channel that struck it big with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s critically acclaimed hybrid mini-series event Mars (pictured), recently renewed for a sophomore series. The first season of the documentary-scripted fusion garnered more than 36 million viewers globally last fall and became the most DVR-ed series in network history, Nat Geo said at the time.
In the premium space, the network is also prepping season two of Revelations Entertainment’s The Story of God with Morgan Freeman and its debut in the fictional genre with the entirely scripted Genius, scheduled to premiere this fall.
“It’s important to remember that big ideas don’t always come from big companies,” Mykura stressed. “Really big, breakthrough ideas are hard to find. Sometimes it’s an unexpected company that brings you those ideas and you can assemble the relationships required to create them around them.”
Foxtel’s GM of lifestyle channels Hannah Barnes agreed. For her, good content is good content, regardless of where it comes from.
“We don’t buy this idea of commissioning straight for digital or straight for linear. It’s distracting, for us it’s about finding great content and putting it in a format that the audience needs.” – Hannah Barnes
The Australian broadcaster acquires approximately 4,000 hours per year across its four lifestyle channels and has recently ramped up its slate of pre-buys and copros, including a freshly inked deal with BBC Worldwide that will see up-and-coming health-focused chefs Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley coming to the Oceanic continent.
“We don’t buy this idea of commissioning straight for digital or straight for linear. It’s distracting, for us it’s about finding great content and putting it in a format that the audience needs.”
For ORF, a 100% commissioning structure is something the Austrian pubcaster can “very rarely do” due to the cost of high-end natural history at an average of €400,000 (US$427,000) per hour. While the company doesn’t fully finance its projects, ORF is actively involved in coproductions where it is the leading partner, with 10 to 12 hours of content per year, and about 10 hours as the passive copro partner.
ORF’s weekly documentary strand ‘Universum’, meanwhile, averages an audience share of 20-25%, led by local subjects to the territory. A film on the alpine region most recently pulled an audience share of 26%, for instance.
“We have the responsibility to support the Austrian industry and to show Austria to our own public and the responsibility to bring best and highest programs,” said Andrew Solomon, head of natural history and history at ORF.
Working a great deal with its German-speaking partners ARD and ZDF, as well as France 2, France 5, Smithsonian and National Geographic, Solomon said ORF is always looking at how easily the natural history style it likes to work in will work with the styles of other broadcasters and companies.
“It’s always best for us when we have great commonality,” he said.
Photo courtesy Reed Midem