In Galway, European commissioning editors discuss how the documentary landscape has changed over the last 18 months
- The talk covered a variety of topics, including the shift from linear to virtual programming and broadcasters' latest editorial strategies for producing and distributing non-fiction content
On 4 November, a one-hour talk titled “Documentary – A European Perspective” took place in Galway. The event, organised with the support of the BAI Sectoral Learning and Development Fund and in association with Paradiddle Pictures and Galway’s MEDIA Office, was chaired by Danish producer Ove Rishøj Jensen and saw the participation of five European commissioning editors. In particular, the panel focused on exploring broadcasters' editorial strategies, how the shift from linear to virtual programming is developing and how the documentary production landscape has changed over the last 18 months.
Firstly, Rishøj Jensen introduced the five speakers, namely BBC Storyville's Philippa Kowarsky (attending remotely), EO’s Margit Balogh, YLE's Erkko Lyytinen, ARTE GEIE's Peter Gottschalk and SVT's Charlotte Madsen.
During the talk, Kowarsky explained that she joined Storyville very recently, after having worked for several years for Cinephil on successful projects such as Collective [+see also:
film profile], Gunda [+see also:
film profile], The Act of Killing [+see also:
film profile], The Look of Silence [+see also:
film profile] and, more recently, Flee [+see also:
interview: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
film profile]. She said that Storyville's productions usually air on BBC 2 and BBC 4, but the pubcaster's iPlayer is gaining more and more prominence. The healthcare emergency has expedited this shift to digital, and Kowarsky did not exclude that "we will all move on iPlayer or similar platforms over the next five, ten years." In any case curation remains key, as she finds problematic the "supermarket approach" of certain streamers.
Madsen confirmed that SVT is looking for both creative documentaries and factual or current affairs content. Prebuys are more factual and series-orientated and, currently, creative documentaries are set to fill 60-minute slots. Speaking about SVT's documentaries mode of consumption, Madsen stated that online fruition comes first, but broadcast still represents a large share of viewers. She added that online fruition is becoming larger and larger for all types of broadcasts, and that currently the network is experiencing, like many others, a sort of transitory "testing phase."
Balogh talked through the complex Dutch broadcasting system, which includes ten players. Only six of them, however, produce documentaries. EO is the Dutch Christian's premier broadcaster and is looking for creative, author-driven documentaries adopting a cinematic language to fill its 16-20 yearly slots: "We don’t have so much space, so we need to 'sharpen' our profile and co-productions decisions." She also mentioned Writing With Fire as one of next year's titles taking part to the broadcaster's slate. Despite the recent shift to digital, broadcast still comes first in the Netherlands, she argued, especially among elderly audiences.
Lyytinen, a former swimming teacher turned DoP, director, festival director, producer and commissioning editor over the course of 30 years, stressed on the importance of the changes which took place over the last two years. Beside its four linear channels, YLE committed to digital distribution with a proprietary platform called Areena already back in 2007. "We don't think in terms of slots, and we do co-productions and prebuys too" explained Lyytinen. In fact, YLE's editorial strategy centres on sourcing content that may be appealing for Finnish audiences – that's a strict requirement – and later finding a right distribution strategy. Later, he also recommended to avoid seeing documentary as "a single unit" and mentioned the successful example of YLE's Game of Minds. The project consisted of one series for Instagram, one for YouTube, one for the platform and a single TV film for elderly audiences, all of them aiming to intercept "different people with different content."
Gottschalk highlighted ARTE's strong commitment to supporting non-fiction content. While being aware of the broadcaster's long-standing tradition of privileging the usual 60 and 90 minutes slots, he said ARTE is open to new formats and, over the last 5-6 years, it has been developing documentary series such as its 60x4 Colonia Dignidad: A Sinister Sect, which revolves around a Chilean sect of fascist paedophiles, currently available on Netflix. He also pointed out the importance of the co-production treaties established with "thousands of broadcasters," including Ireland's RTÉ, and their mission to provide multi-lingual content, either subtitled or dubbed.
A short Q&A session brought the panel to a close. After the talk, a select group of Irish producers and directors had the opportunity to pitch their projects to the five commissioning editors.
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