Docuseries, reality shows and one-off documentaries are hot commodities for broadcasters looking to fill factual slots across Europe.
Brexit, the refugee crisis, fears of the European Union coming apart and political instability have many in the region feeling on edge these days. And in these times of uncertainty, factual content that educates and entertains is, perhaps, more important than ever.
“In times of political uncertainty, which these are, audiences look for comfort viewing and familiarity,” says Robyn Hurd, the VP of content sales for EMEA at A+E Networks. According to Hurd, this is one reason reality programs like the male-skewing transactional series Pawn Stars and American Pickers do so well across CEE and Europe as a whole. “Audiences know what they’re getting with Pawn and Pickers.”
Hurd adds, “With a specific focus on CEE, these long-running franchises have continued to sell incredibly well across the region in second and third windows.” She says the success of these shows is also due to the fact that “they’re utility players that can be stacked and peppered all over the schedule. They repeat incredibly well, and they deliver ratings, so they add real value.”
Long-running, key brands are a big trend throughout Europe and in CEE in particular, echoes Marine Ksadzhikyan, the senior VP of distribution and development at Rive Gauche Television. “In an environment that is a little uncertain, a lot of broadcasters want to attach themselves to brands that have been working for years and series that have multiple seasons,” she explains. For that reason, Rive Gauche has seen “a lot of action with some of our key brands such as Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer, My Strange Addiction, My Crazy Obsession and Fix It & Finish It with Antonio Sabato Jr.” The company has also found regional success with its crime titles, including Homicide Hunter, which has been a hit for Investigation Discovery, and Ice Cold Killers.
Another long-running franchise with a recognizable face is the female-skewing Dance Moms, which A+E’s Hurd says continues to perform well in the region. The show offers a “great co-viewing experience for moms and their daughters and is one of our strongest digitally performing franchises too, so it works well for our broadcasters.”
Programs that provide opportunities for family viewing are finding success in CEE. Melanie Torres, the director of international content sales at GRB Entertainment, says the fan-favorite Auction Kings and one of its newest launches, Super Fan Builds, work well because “both are general, easy-viewing type shows that the entire family can sit around and watch.” She has found that programs with volume always do better in terms of sales, especially in “regions like CEE, where they might not pay as high license fees as Western Europe.” Thus, the company has had success with the long-running crime series On the Case and the docuseries Untold Stories of the ER.
A+E’s Hurd says history is another genre that continues to prove popular in Europe. A+E touts a host of short-run event series like Hunting Hitler, The World Wars and Barbarians Rising, and Hurd has even found that “in CEE in particular, which is unlike other territories, history programming doesn’t have to be tied to an anniversary.”
There is also an appetite for wildlife and nature programming. “True best-sellers are our award-winning, blue-chip and high-quality wildlife and nature programs from our renowned brand ORF Universum,” says Marion Camus-Oberdorfer, the head of international content sales at ORF-Enterprise. “Our recent Ultra HD 4K lineup, including our three latest ORF Universum highlights, the three-parter Wild Caribbean: Rhythms of Life, Giants of the Atlantic: Azores and The Canary Islands,” has caught buyers’ attention, she notes.
Science programming also lights a spark with European audiences, and in that category, ORF-Enterprise is offering the weekly series Newton, which covers recent scientific findings in an accessible way. Camus-Oberdorfer says high-end nature and wildlife and science programs are always in demand due to “their cost-efficient and comparably easy localization for different markets and languages.”
Sabine Holzer, the head of TV at Terra Mater Factual Studios, notes that her company’s science-focused programming does particularly well in Poland. She says science-themed shows can be enriched with “widely known presenters who have built up their expertise in science and nature,” like Sir David Attenborough, or famous faces like Richard Hammond, the ex-Top Gear star who hosts Terra Mater’s Wild Weather with Richard Hammond.
“Three-part miniseries appear to be most suitable for multi-territorial networks such as Nat Geo WILD or Discovery Channel,” Holzer adds. “One-offs work for larger TV stations that have a fixed wildlife slot.” Popular programs include those that “take the audience to exotic countries such as Wild Uganda, or dream destinations, as Wild Sri Lanka does,” she says.
When it comes to documentary series, Rive Gauche’s Ksadzhikyan reports that the preference is for shows without talking heads, though she notes that it depends on the country.
“There is no general rule in regard to presenters,” explains Terra Mater’s Holzer. “Although the better known the host is—and the better they fit the program and thus are credible—the more appeal a hosted show has, but it heavily depends on the slots of the broadcaster and whether they already have an established host.” It’s key for a program to be “truly captivating to engage the audience,” she adds, and it also needs to be able to draw in viewers who might tune in after the show has begun.
According to GRB’s Torres, it’s important to have factual titles that are not too American-centric and that appeal to a general audience. She points to Arabia Motors, a new addition to the company’s catalog that follows the partners behind an automotive magazine in the Middle East, as a show that has broad appeal.
Sometimes broadcasters prefer to make local formats of factual shows. Torres notes that she receives requests to format shows in GRB’s catalog, especially when it comes to cooking series like Recipe Rehab. She says buyers find that culinary programs work better when they are localized because “every region has different seasonings, different ingredients, and so a cooking show from the U.S. might not speak to an audience in Hungary.”
Rive Gauche’s Ksadzhikyan says she has noticed a trend toward making localized episodes of shows. For instance, broadcasters might suggest filming episodes of a series like Dog Whisperer in Poland or Hungary to give them an international flavor.
While there have been local versions of A+E’s hit franchises like Pawn Stars and American Pickers, when U.S. shows bring in ratings and there is so much tape to draw from, there is less of a need to produce local adaptations. “We sell so many third windows of our big franchises,” Hurd says. “It’s cost-effective programming” that European broadcasters can tap into.
Meanwhile, ORF-Enterprise’s Camus-Oberdorfer emphasizes that “culturally transferable and localizable programs” are in high demand due to the competitive nature of the market and the importance of economizing budgets efficiently. She adds that the biggest buyers of ORF-Enterprise’s factual programming have been Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
“Poland by far in CEE is a big revenue generator for us,” says A+E’s Hurd. “It’s got the largest number of broadcasters, and last year saw a plethora of DTT channels open up, so there is a real competition in the region, and we’ve enjoyed a great deal of success.” She adds that A+E has seen an uptick in sales to Hungary, with Russia shaping up to be a focus over the next 12 months.
In addition to activity in Russia, Poland and Hungary, Rive Gauche’s Ksadzhikyan has seen interest from Romania. “We have great contacts there, and they’ve done some big packages with us,” she says. Ksadzhikyan notes that the new documentary series Egg Factor, which follows the journey of intended parents who need the help of egg donors in order to have a baby, drummed up interest in these territories when it was introduced at MIPTV.
Factual distributors are also eyeing the digital space. “Interesting new European players focusing especially on factual content are emerging,” says ORF-Enterprise’s Camus-Oberdorfer.
Terra Mater’s Holzer is enthusiastic about the fact that there are “opportunities regarding 4K on digital/OTT and SVOD platforms, especially in Russia and Poland, where we see an increasing demand.”
Rive Gauche’s Ksadzhikyan also points to Russia as a rising star in the SVOD space. She says that as new players emerge, they need content, and “this is really good for us distributors because most of them need volume. It’s going to open up some more doors for us.”
Pictured: Terra Mater’s Wild Sri Lanka.