Industry Report: Documentary
Laura Fleury • A&E TV network
16/07/2009 - What does a project need to have to be backed up by A&E?
We have many different channels under the A&E TV network, so there are a lot of different opportunities both in the US and internationally. In terms of independent documentary there are opportunities in our channels locally in different countries, through Biography Channel, Crime and Investigation Channel and History Channel International. We are commissioning to create a lot of material for those channels that will then feed out the international channels.
In the US, most of what we are doing in non-fiction is series development and series production. History Channel does more co-productions for certain big marquee, along the lines of what Discovery Channel does in terms of their scope and impact and for the fact that they are one-off as opposed to an ongoing series. It is hard to answer the question of what they have to have, because it is different for different channels.
In terms of co-productions with Europe, which countries do you coproduce with the most?
Well, those channels under the ANE network; Biography Channel and Crime and Investigation Channel are very strong in the UK, Germany, Australia, South East Asia, and then there is another countries in which those channels are in, including Turkey. They are doing local co-productions and local acquisitions within those regions. With France we haven’t managed to crack in yet, but we keep trying!
In addition to what is coming from the US, there is a certain percentage of schedule available for them to do co-productions and acquisitions that are local to those markets, which I think is probably where the greatest opportunity is.
What is you budget for co-productions?
The decision wide ranges depending on what kind of rates we are going to get: Is it an acquisition or a coproduction? What country is it for? What’s the going rating on those markets? Which channels are for?
In the US, since we do full commissions and then we distribute our own programming to our own channels, we are pain-free for those programs, because we own them.
What major changes have you observed since the economic recession kicked in?
There hasn’t been such a big change for us, because we are really committed to original development. In terms of production we had so many successful series that are returning, primarily focused in the US, we find ourselves in a very advantageous position. It’s harder to get a green light with us now but it’s not because of the economy, it’s because we are just doing very well.
I think the only change for us, and this is very unique to the North American piece of the business is the ad sales side of the market; the advertisers are not spending so much money on broadcast, buying spots on our channels which is where a lot of our revenue comes from. There are figures we have to fight so much harder to get, as well as the approval to spend money on shows that may not be ad sales friendly. And we do king of edgy programming.
What are the most relevant financing sources for documentary in America?
There are so many channels, and so much opportunity, in my opinion, for documentary filmmakers to tell a story and have those stories be heard, whether that’d be the Internet, film festivals or the myriad of cable channels that exist. If you want to be on A&E you are going to have to do a certain kind of show and be willing to sell it to us so that we can completely control it. Obviously you would get a percentage of that.
There are so many other channels that have very specific focus in terms of the genre or the niche. They may not be able to contribute as much money but they are not looking to have all the rates, so you will be able to control all your rates and distribute the program internationally yourself if you are interested or work with the distributor.
Do you think the future looks gloomy or bright?
I think this is the era for non-fiction, because I think of it as a medium not as a genre. It’s everything from educational documentaries, feature documentaries, reality shows, competition shows, celebrity-focused shows, observational documentaries, comedy, crime and justice, paranormal, you have so many venues; you just have to figure out what is all right for what you want to tell.
Documentary Campus, 23 & 24 May 2009
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