In the leaflet to accompany this year’s Television Factual Festival, James Bennett, MD of Televisual magazine, wrote: “Factual television content creation is not just about good ideas [although they help!] but it’s also about a symbiotic relationship between the broadcaster or SVOD commissioner and the producer.”
The first session of the two-day event, held at London’s Curzon Soho cinema, distinctly emphasised this network-prodco relationship when four leading factual commissioners revealed their shopping lists to Televisual’s audience, comprising factual producers from across the UK’s independent production community. Here, we outline these commissioners’ programming needs:
Catherine Catton, BBC Commissioning Editor, Popular Factual and Factual Entertainment
“For 9pm on BBC1, there’s a huge need for big factual entertainment formats. Obviously, they are incredibly hard to land but we are looking for huge ideas. You should think about shape, think about whether it could be something that could be stripped or go out twice a week. It could be celebrity-driven, it could be a competitive format, it could be something that’s immersive. I know it’s a very broad brief but it’s a huge area we are talking about at the moment.
BBC1 is also looking for more celebrity-led single films following our success with ‘Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out’ and ‘Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad’. It’s thinking about whether there’s a headline at the heart of it or whether there’s a present tense journey that person has to go on.
For BBC2, we have got lots of requirements. The sweet spot is where you get those moments where process meets illumination. Think about popular factual and the everyday worlds we can go into and what that might tell us about the world and what that access might give us.
Competition for BBC2 is also a need. Obviously ‘Race Across the World’ did brilliantly and we will be doing more. But just because we have had one successful competition recently that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking for more. We probably wouldn’t do another one in travel but think about competition for the 8pm and 9pm slots.
For BBC3, we had ‘Drag Race’ go out this year which has done brilliantly particularly in bringing underserved audiences to the BBC. So we are looking for what are those huge channel-defining perception-altering pieces for BBC3 – big entertainment pieces that we can deliver. Also think about talent-led shows – however this would be a totally different spectrum of talent. It might be useful to think about people who have big social media followings.”
Hilary Rosen, UKTV Head of Factual and Factual Entertainment
“There’s a need for new experimental pieces on Dave. For the 8pm Sunday slot, the show needs to feel ambitious with a scope that’s big and distinctive. What’s really interesting is looking at Dave’s recent ‘Expedition with Steve Backshall’. Just as viewers are now channel agnostic and only interested in in brands, talent is also pretty generally channel-agnostic and we have to accept that talent will travel to the broadcaster with the right money for the right idea for the thing they want to do. So we will all encourage you to talk to talent all the time to find out what’s behind the conversation.
On W we are looking for formats. We have less money next year for peak formats so we are well set in that space because of ‘Emma Willis: Delivering Babies’ and ‘The Wedding Fixer’. But these sorts of formats, if you get them right, are big prizes. Yes, they are a lower tariff, but if you can nail them you can be on something like episode 100 – a bit like ‘Inside the Ambulance’. A show can work and soon become channel-defining for your audience.
Producers are becoming more and more savvy about piecing together money. Factual commissions are often looking more like drama commissions in terms of the way finance is pieced together. But remember we also have a very good finance section who can find that money for you. We understand that some of you will come with money attached and that’s attractive, but don’t feel you can’t bring the idea if you haven’t got the money – because that’s also our job to help you piece that together.
On Yesterday, we are commissioning again and I am really interested in engineering ideas that feel narrative-driven.”
Sarah Lazenby, Channel 4 Head of Features and Formats
“I’m really lucky in features and formats because I have a wide, really diverse slate of commissions on E4, and equally on More 4 we have shows like ‘Devon and Cornwall’.
We have breadth and we also do noisy documentaries from Channel 4’s ‘Mums Make Porn’ through to formats like ‘Flirty Dancing’ or competitive shows like ‘Bake Off’.
I would just say bring me what you’re passionate about. Making telly is hard, we get excited about an idea, we cast it, something can go wrong, it’s nightmare to come through. So what’s the billboard poster? What do you want to make? What’s a brilliant, simple title? They’re the things I get excited about, things that sit somewhere in between a genre. What is your original passionate thought? That’s what I’m interested in.”
Greg Barnett, Channel 5 Commissioning Editor, Factual Entertainment
“What our channel needs is alternatives. Please remember Channel 5 is a reactive scheduler; we react to what these broadcasters sitting next to me are doing. So good ideas we’re after at the moment are for Saturday nights, where traditionally our factual hunters go for shows like specialist factual series ‘Pompei’. So it can be about that purist history – where we can satisfy audiences who don’t want to see shiny floor shows on the other two mainstream channels on a Saturday night. But during the week it’s about alternatives to underserved audiences. So, practically-speaking, five nights a week between 7-9pm, what are you going to watch? If you look at our [Channel 5’s] modus operandi, that will help you.”
During the festival’s ‘Big Interview’, BBC Two Channel Controller Patrick Holland was asked by Voltage TV Chief Executive Sanjay Singhal why the UK public broadcaster’s commissioning process takes such a long period of time, with indies often waiting for months for an answer after first pitching in.
Holland, now three years into his role admitted, that once the idea has been pitched and logged to the Beeb, the organisation then: “Spends a lot of time asking questions about ideas to get them to the point of where once they go into production, they become television programmes. Our de-commission rate is very very low – we do not green light things right at the beginning when someone comes up with a concept and go ‘yep off you go and make it and get a phone call 6 months later saying that it didn’t work’. What we do is stress test the idea and ask questions about the idea. It is a collaboration, we are not in the business of receiving ideas and saying that’s fine, off you go. It’s about building that idea into the very best it can be. Holland added that the BBC receives ideas from “more independents that any other broadcaster”.
Meanwhile, on the ‘Opportunities in the Nations and Regions’ panel, Tris Payne, Head of Nations and Regions at Pact (Boom! PR’s live Commissioner Webinar Series partner), said he was keen to “join the dots” of communication between broadcasters and regions, and ensure all regional funds were tapped into across the country to further help out-of-London indies. And elsewhere, Alex Morris, Chief Creative Officer at Boom! PR client Barcroft Studios, again took to the stage to discuss the opportunities to engage audiences with both short- and long-form content as part of the ‘Digital Focus: Changing Business Models’ session.