Long gap since my last post, apologies. But last week I went to the annual MIP-TV market in Cannes which gave me plenty to think (and write) about.
Four days of meetings equated a big batch of ideas – though the word product seems more appropriate in such a marketplace.
Fewer people were wandering the Palais this year – cuts are biting, and there’s less face to face in the business anyway these days. The cost of attending a market like this for producers and distributors is large, and the pressure is on from day one.
With four of us from SBS all doing separate meetings, we covered a lot of companies. Telling distributors and producers what we needed, running through their ‘slates’, working off this MIP 2015 SBS Acquisitions Needs brochure.
My main impressions?
You meet who you know already. There should be a ‘lucky dip’ function on the website to put you together with people you’ve never met before.
30 minutes is not long enough for most meetings, given that I usually got there late and kept getting lost in the Riviera part of the market.
There’s no time to digest all the news and industry insight that floods the market – here are just a few of the magazines I picked up before leaving. In there are lots of programmes that I should be watching.
Caffe Roma, the central cafe for meetings with those who haven’t registered for the market itself – serves terrible tea.
What were the Aussies up to?
The SBS stand was opposite the Screen Australia stand for the Aussie producers, who made merry at a drink on the Tuesday.
It was good to see so many producers making the long trip to Cannes. Here’s a Screen Australia showreel of Australian projects brought to the market
At 22 minutes long, it’s a great way to get a fix of Australian TV. Spoiler alert: Doesn’t include all the terrible reality shows on Australian TV though.
And Blown Away (at 2:21) – a very intriguing part-animated doc on Cyclone Tracy which happened 40 years ago. There’s more about the film, shown in late December on ABC1 and co-produced by Rachel Clements, here
The other clips on the reel:
Deadline Gallipoli (3:17)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (4:22) – which I’d love to see bought in the UK
Pitch Battle (5:38) – about the Palestinian football team
Restaurant Australia (7:22)
Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane (9:37)
Status: Vacant (11:15)
Struggle Street (13:05) – coming to SBS in May
Tattoo Tales (14:57)
That Sugar Film (16:36) – a kaleidoscopic look at a key health issue.
Heart and Soul (19:35) – this looks like a good tale of girls making music and growing up
Vice is a brilliantly focussed and sure-footed media company and its ideas demand attention. Some ideas at MIP though seem there to test us. The delegate bag was sponsored by DogTV (TV for dogs, in case you were wondering). The Telegraph in the UK has written about the formats on offer, and it’s not too impressed.
One of the other SBSs around the world, in Korea, has the slogan ‘See The Bright Tomorrow’. Which is a nice thought, even though it doesn’t exactly work as a slogan.
MIP wouldn’t be MIP without a bit of socialising, and nothing beats a beachside party at Cannes. This one on Monday night was from distributor DRG.
If you were at MIP, let me know how you found it. At the Nordic party, I met a gentleman from Finland who reminded me that it’s only 170 shopping days left till MIPCOM…
A new title for ‘The World’s Greatest Food Markets’ – I’m a bit of a title fanatic, and this one didn’t draw me in.
An Asian presenter fronting a regular international show. Australia could do with more Asian faces
For lots more programmes from Channel 4 to live up to their great Born Risky tagline
After all the war docs from 2014, and the new swathe of them in 2015, how about something equally compelling about more peaceful achievements?
A series from the Tumblr generation – like TruTV are trying to do. Kudos to them for doing a full reboot of the channel
A way to get people who watch live sport to watch docs about sporting stories. They never seem to!
An Anime- K-Pop-factual mashup. I went to Seoul for the first time in the autumn, for Docs Port Incheon, and also met Korean producers at the ATF in December. But outside arthouse movies and kids cartoons Korean content is not well known in the West. So how about combining the two biggest genres in Korean pop culture?
And can we all think of a new word instead of ‘arts programmes’ so that programmers don’t keep saying they’re niche and cutting the slots? We all need creativity in our lives. Something to do with Going Out, or Dazzle – anything but Arts!
Last week’s Asia TV Forum was my first visit, and my first visit to Singapore.
Plenty of channels, distributors, funding organisations and producers in an airy exhibition floor in the huge Singapore Convention centre. The event was organised by Reed Midem, with support from the impressive Media Development Authority of Singapore.
It was good to be representing SBS at an Asian market – Australia’s nearest neighbours after all. I had to keep reminding myself that these companies represented a population of 4.4 billion people – in countries where media and television were developing fast.
So should more people have been there? The French were by far the biggest European presence, with 20 companies on two stands – thanks to the support of TVFI, very well run by Mathieu Béjot. Other than that, there were a few representatives from Europe and the US, but not as many as I would have thought. Beyond and Flame joined me in the Australian contingent, though there were also distributors selling to the Aussie market. Maybe the cost is simply beyond an independent producer, and it’s best left to the distributors.
The emphasis was on entertainment, lifestyle and drama – though melodrama or telenovela might be a better description for a lot of the fiction on offer. Acquisition rates may be relatively low in some countries, but there are a lot of territories and they’re hungry for content.
I had good conversations with a few channels, and with the MDA, about working together with SBS. I know it isn’t going to be easy, and the SBS audience isn’t particularly used to Asian programming. We show the Chinese dating show If You Are the One on SBS2, and it’s one of the top-rating shows on the channel. Well, the actual title is Fei Cheng Wu Rao), 非誠勿擾, literal translation: ‘If not sincere, then do not disturb.’
The show was based on Take Me Out, remade as Taken Out on Australian Network Ten in 2008 and axed after just a month, only to have its format re-imagined and successfully exported to 19 countries including China. Just goes to show that ideas can have new lives.
Although Aussies are frequent visitors as holiday makers to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Myanmar and all the rest, it’s hard to find the right way to interest them in content from Asia when they return. I’m pretty convinced that we’ll need young Asian presenting talent to act as a guide to the myriad stories that are clearly waiting to be told. Once I’ve found that it’ll be a question of finding a mainstream audience for them. Anybody know if there’s a blockbuster Indian dating show we could buy?
I’ve now visited Malaysia, China, Singapore, Japan and Korea in the past few months, and know that there are talented and entrepreneurial people to work with. But I also know I’ve only scratched the surface. I think that a lot more ideas need to be generated, and working relationships formed. I’d like to give it a go though.
Back to Copenhagen after a week in London. I spent it catching up with production companies, distributors, and going to a day at the Televisual Factual Festival. Well moderated panels on Specialist Factual, Popular Factual, and how to make docs in danger zones, an interview with Ralph Lee of Channel 4, and a room full of remote cameras to demonstrate using a ‘rig’ set up. Quite a few people that I knew, but even more that I didn’t. Great to be reminded by everybody’s clip reels of what had been on, and working, in the past months. Peter Hamilton’s recently done a good overview of the UK non-fiction market, well worth a read (and I’d recommend subscribing, too).
While there was plenty of discussion of the difficulties of operating in the UK – particularly as a smaller company – the view from the stage was still that there was a big market for a range of UK produced content, particularly factual, that new ideas were sought and would get through, and that producers were well placed to take advantage. The BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Five all seemed to be in the same space for factual. Internationally, British content is doing well too – there were some big winners at the International Emmys last night. I know this is a rosy view and it’s really hard to get commissions – there are so many good ideas out there.
I met some new indies who’d set up in the great indie start-up craze as Televisual called it – amongst them Andrea Miller & Jerry Foulkes of Sunnyside productions, Fenia Vardanis of Melina Media. And companies from Bristol like Testimony, the ever-expanding Icon films, and Tigress who have all carved out a healthy part of the market without having to join the London shark-pool.
And they’re competing in a market with some big players. Discovery & Viacom have bought All3Media and Channel5, Endemol, Shine & Core Media have merged, and Warner has completed a rebrand of the production companies it bought through Shed. On the horizon is the move of BBC in-house production to be a standalone independent company, able to work for other broadcasters as well as the BBC. But if it has to carry BBC overheads and staffing arrangements, I can’t see how it’s going to compete.
All public broadcasters are having to change – mostly by downsizing – and my new colleagues at SBS are facing cuts announced last week – those for the ABC are much larger. But in truth the changes now imposed on the ABC have been happening for many years in the UK sector. It’s not just about saving money, it’s driven by changes in how the creative industry wants to work, and the ways audiences want to watch. The best result would be a more balanced ecosystem of independents and inhouse, and content that people want to watch and use.
Some of that public service ecosystem is on show this week at the IDFA Forum, Festival and DocLab – public service content in all directions, and all of it coming from independent producers working with or without broadcasters. I’m not saying it’s all made for the small screen, a lot of doc films see themselves in opposition to television and see their natural home as the cinema (and good luck to them).
The challenge for Australian broadcasters is to keep a focus on this public service content, rather than chasing ratings or focussing on the now not so new platforms. SBS itself has a real challenge to keep history, arts, social documentary, international themes on the channel. The opposition in Australia has so many battles to fight – about climate change, the environment, immigration policy, cuts to Science R&D funding, that broadcasting and the creative sector maybe don’t get enough attention. But as an outsider to Australia, it needs work.
My London week was rounded off by a Saturday night party for Anne Morrison, who’s left the BBC and is now Chair of BAFTA. She’s managed so much in her 33 years at the BBC, from 18 years running various factual departments, to driving the Nations and Regions strategy (how to move production and commissioning out of London and into the English regions and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which I worked for Anne on). And most recently the BBC Academy, the BBC’s training organisation. (You should check out the material that’s available for free on their website, particularly the Journalism section).
It was great to see old colleagues, both from the BBC and the independent sector. The quality television programmes produced in that room really captured a lot of my past, and I felt pretty proud to be a part of it. But I couldn’t help feeling we were the lucky ones to have been able to work in such a well-supported organisation.
Thanks for reading till the end, feel free to share, comments welcome below.
There was a packed auditorium for the main debate at Wildscreen on Wednesday. It covered themes familiar to previous festivals, but no less important for that, according to Wildscreen veterans. How television wildlife films misrepresented the world and its environmental problems. How cute and fluffy animals don’t tell the whole story. How the word ‘Environment’ is a turn-off for commissioners. Questions from the audience came from people identifying themselves as from the ‘‘Save the Rhino’ or ‘Ocean Conservation’ campaigns. They were impassioned about the need to raise public awareness of habitat and species loss, including of the dreadful trade in shark fin soup which kills between 75 and 100 million sharks a year. The reality of climate change and our role in destroying our planet hung over everything.
On the panel, Channel 4 factual boss Ralph Lee presented a clip of the series Fish Fight, sitting alongside Will Anderson of producer Keo Films. The impact of Fish Fight on the policy of supermarkets, and European Union policy, including through social media is thoroughly documented and well worth a read.
But Channel 4 has had to set aside some of its campaigning work to keep its ratings up. I heard Ralph Lee say as he was leaving the venue that he’d been dining out on Fish Fight for three years. Alongside him on the panel, the BBC’s Science and Nature commissioner Tom McDonald squirmed a bit when asked if as a public service broadcaster they could do something like Fish Fight. He used the familiar BBC defence ‘we’re not allowed to do campaigns or be political’ – which seems quite weak to me. There’s nothing party political that I can see about a programme dealing with the food on our plates, or how the supermarkets behave. And Fish Fight wasn’t promoting a campaign group, it was an independently produced examination of the subject which got its message out. If there was a problem with dealing with such issues, shouldn’t the BBC be looking at Watchdog and other consumer journalism? Feel free to browse the BBC’s editorial guidelines to see how you interpret them, and how they apply to series such as Fish Fight.
Ralph Lee had cleverly assembled a reel of C4 clips – from a live show from the Space Race, the drama Utopia, and a Kevin McLoud design series – to demonstrate how environmental questions could be covered in other programme forms, not just documentaries about the natural world. The BBC’s science and natural history commissioner Tom McDonald also reeled out plenty of examples.
But this didn’t satisfy the audience, or me. The state of the planet is too grim, and climate change too grave an issue, for it to be just ‘smuggled into’ programmes. It really needs creative thinking and leadership from the top. Tony Hall of the BBC has brought about a change in the BBC to be an Arts broadcaster, and a Diverse broadcaster. And backed it up with money and resources. How about allocating similar funds and managerial will to making the BBC actively cover climate change and its effects? This BBC Trust report from 2011 on BBC’s Science coverage still seems to stymie debate in the BBC about the coverage of climate change issues – but it can’t be allowed to. TV has a bigger responsibility than that.
Joe Smith and Kim from the Open University, with the filmmaker Jeremy Bristow behind the camera, interviewed me for a research project about the coverage of environmental issues in broadcast media. A great subject, and it made me think hard about the responsibility of people with such powerful tools as cameras, TV channels and other platforms at their disposal – and often with money from the public.
The channel I’m now working for, SBS, has done a series looking at the origin of the seafood Australians eat, called What’s the Catch? – starting on Thursday 30th October. I’d like to see more campaigns and awareness-raising on the channel, and know I’m going to be asking myself with the same questions on the best way to get people to engage. It can’t be beyond us to work it out, can it?
Please comment on this, or email me. Thanks for reading!
Wildscreen is a conference and gathering held in Bristol for nature and wildlife filmmakers, distributors, and broadcasters. It happens once every two years, alternating with the Jackson Hole festival in Wyoming. Everybody clusters around Bristol’s lovely harbourside, like animals around a waterhole, wandering between the Arnolfini Gallery, Bordeaux Quay, and the Watershed centre.
It’s relaxed, chatty, and dressed-down.
Nearly 30% of the world’s wildlife programmes are made by Bristol-based companies or crew. The BBC Natural History Unit was founded here over 50 years ago, and provided a foundation for the sector. Now October every two years is the place to be to watch, discuss and celebrate the genre. It has its Panda Awards, given out on the last night – and you can see the results here. Wildscreen feels very different from the business-driven ‘industry’ events like Realscreen, the Broadcast conferences, or Sunny Side. There are sponsors of course, but it’s all low-key. Like the World Congress of Science Producers, Wildscreen feels run by the community for the community.
After I left for dinner on Wednesday I’d like to think the crowd at Bordeaux Quay would have got down grooving to this little number:
There’s a strong production aspect to Wildscreen – about actually making films as well as financing them. There was much talk about the need to innovate in camera techniques to boost declining audiences. Camera manufacturers and rental companies had their own room to show off their kit, usually with seriously long lenses attached. 4K is now standard for filming wildlife.
Janet Han Vissering of Nat Geo Wild handed out lots of chocolates, and got the members of her panel on coproduction, the first of the day, to wear T-shirts with flags of the countries they were from. Everybody on the panel knew and had worked with each other. Janet’s metaphor for coproduction was a holiday with a friend, and she entertainingly got audience members to talk about the pitfalls of such holidays. All the panellists looked as if they’d be pretty good holiday company.
Partnerships across borders are now essential in factual programmes. Hence the very international feel of the market. I met Germans, French, Austrians, Australians, Irish, Americans, Canadians. Kenny Bae from Korea was there with his hi-tech selfie-taker
Hiromichi Iwasaki of NHK in Japan told us about their very big budget Giant Squid documentary from earlier this year. The production used a boat costing $50,000 a day, for 60 days, to try and catch the first images of the squid. $3 million just for the boat, with the rest of the cost of making the film on top. (Though that $3 million did apparently include the submersibles).
The US producer on this coproduction (on the right in the picture above) told the audience that having invested in the huge cost of the expedition, Discovery said that they wanted a ‘monster‘ film, not an expedition one, as ‘monsters were hot right now’. They needed quite a bit of persuading to keep the expedition aspects in, apparently.
I’ve been making it my business to work in the coproduction area over the past three years. That’s been with the Sunny Side and Asian Side of the Doc markets, helping the international development of Gedeon, and now consulting for SBS in Australia. Wildlife is a very international genre, but because of that – and the fact it often doesn’t date – supply outstrips demand. And the audience is always asking for something newer and different, particularly in Australia where both the ABC and the commercial channels show the cream of natural history filmmaking. I’m realising I need to ‘think different’ and find more partnerships with broadcasters – and not just the usual suspects – to secure the impactful shows that we want to bring the SBS audience. I’d love to hear and talk about ideas along those lines you might have.
Suzanne Harle from distributor Green Planet Films, seeing that I represented SBS, told me of when she was a student in the early days of SBS, where it was associated with programmes about drugs, peace and love. Apparently in those days the student audience watching it was mostly stoned, and SBS stoodnot for Special Broadcasting Service but for the Special Bong Station. I will look that when I go to Sydney in December…