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La Belle Allee Productions report from the Factual Commissioning Forum 09

The first speaker was the newly appointed head of BBC, Janice Hadlow, who outlined what was on her shopping list for the coming seasons.  The BBC is sticking to its traditional themes per channel, and BBC2 was looking to increase its output of documentary, art and food programmes.

Their tariffs were generally to be fixed at the same levels as previous years as they were largely unaffected by the same issues as Channel Four and ITV.

PAY TV

As above, UK Style, Discovery, the History Channel, Sky etc were largely unaffected by the recession – for although reliant on advertising, their tariffs were generally lower and could stay at the same price.  UKTV were also under the protective umbrella of the BBC and therefore able to access archive and music rights not available to other channels.  UKTV’s diversity of brand channels gave them a lot of scope for genre specific programming e.g. Dave and they found that their audience share and loyalty remained fairly consistent.  However, Jeff Korn from Discovery pointed out that a little seepage across channels had begun with the History channel taking on science programmes and looking to commission more in that area.  There were some good natured accusations of ideas theft among the Science/biography/history channels!

Andrew Mackenzie from Channel Four talked about the four key areas within factual they were looking to expand: education, class, parenting and teenage behaviour.  Channel Five are playing it safe this year and looking only to expand things that are already established – one of their shows which tick a lot of boxes is Extreme Fishing with Robson Greene – a surprise hit involving celebrity travel and activity.  They’re also looking to find new programme idea’s which involve celebrities and geography, or celebrities doing unusual things.

In terms of factual dramas they were looking to being able to pay up to £200,000 per hour and the biggest recent success they had was with the De Menezes shooting.  If however you chose the right subject you could bring them in cheaper.

Andy also made it official that Channel Four were lowering their tariffs across the board due to their funding crisis.

BskyB – again Emma Mavery suggested they were largely unaffected by the downturn and they had very healthy budgets to spend – they were looking for ideas around relationships and parents and would be able to offer around £80-90k per factual hour.

In regard to factual programming in general, the themes of pre and post watershed still applied – the former would be lightly formatted – eh Scotland’s Harvest and could be done as 3’s, 4’s or even 6’s.

A Good Way to do history was to do living history -  that certainly seemed to be a strand that was in no danger of diminishing – Who Do you Think You Are etc.

The cable channels were also looking at AFP – advertising funded programming – especially in their cookery areas etc.

The afternoon sessions consisted of a presentation by Tom Roberts of September Films who talked about the various strands available for serious documentary – story Ville, Dispatches etc and what it tool to get into those areas.

A final presentation on High Definition was intended to take the fear and cost out of the genre with the panel taking great pains to point out that the technology need not be expensive so could be seen as affordable.

Karen Smyth, La Belle Allee Productions. March 2009

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