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2017: The Year in Factual

TV Real reviews some of the trends in the business of factual programming last year.

The factual TV business was rocked last year when Discovery Communications announced its acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive. The $14.6 billion deal creates a combined company that will produce some 8,000 hours of original programming annually, be home to around 300,000 hours of library content, and will generate approximately 7 billion short-form video streams monthly. The agreement is expected to finalize early in 2018.

“This is an exciting new chapter for Discovery,” said David Zaslav, the president and CEO of Discovery Communications, in announcing the mega-deal. “Scripps is one of the best-run media companies in the world with terrific assets, strong brands and popular talent and formats. Our business is about great storytelling, authentic characters and passionate super fans. We believe that by coming together with Scripps, we will create a stronger, more flexible and more dynamic media company with a global content engine that can be fully optimized and monetized across our combined networks, products and services in every country around the world.”

Zaslav himself made headlines as MIPCOM 2017’s Personality of the Year, and Discovery also made moves to adjust its global businesses. The company appointed Susanna Dinnage to the newly created role of global president for Animal Planet, marking a first for a Discovery brand to be managed on a global basis. It then revamped the structure of its regional businesses across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, placing the EMEA group under the leadership of Kasia Kieli.

Discovery was also embroiled in a high-profile carriage spat with Sky, which threatened a blackout for U.K. viewers that was averted at the last minute. It closed out the year by increasing its stake in the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network joint venture with an additional $70 million investment.

A number of other companies made acquisitions and/or investments that shook up the factual-programming industry in 2017. Among them, Kew Media Group took control of such companies as Content Media, Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions, TCB Media Rights, Collins Avenue Productions and several more (spanning both scripted and non-). Blue Ant Media purchased David Haslingden’s RACAT Group, which includes such production houses as NHNZ. FremantleMedia invested in the U.K. factual indie Label1. ITV Studios acquired Sweden’s Elk Production, known for entertainment shows like En Ska Bort (Odd One Out) and Wahlgrens, while MGM purchased Evolution Media, behind unscripted hits like Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County and Vanderpump Rules. ZDF Enterprises bought a stake in the factual specialist World Media Rights, marking its first investment in a U.K. production company. Sonar Entertainment scored assets from Tricon Films & Television, expanding the company’s activities into the areas of non-scripted and kids’ and family content for the first time. All3media scooped up the production companies Raw and betty from Discovery. Sky picked up a majority stake in the indie producer True North.

Entertainment One decided to combine its unscripted TV activities in Canada, bringing together Paperny Entertainment and Force Four Entertainment (and later also merged its film and television businesses). True Entertainment and Original Media brought together their operations as the jointly run Truly Original, which remains a subsidiary of Endemol Shine North America. Endemol Shine UK, though, announced the closing of the 20-year-old indie producer Princess Productions.

Other companies that made headlines included National Geographic, which last year set up the feature documentary banner National Geographic Documentary Films. Starz revealed a considerable push into the factual space, first with the establishment of a doc programming block and later announcing a slate of unscripted original docuseries. Boat Rocker Media consolidated its factual and unscripted projects under the new Crooked Horse Productions unit, with plans to also increase its investment in original content. Electus International revealed its brand-new international co-production business model, branded “6/26,” targeted toward original, unscripted format-driven, factual-entertainment series.

In personnel news, longtime HBO documentary films veteran Sheila Nevins decided to exit her post after 38 years with the cable network. She is being replaced in the new year by executive VPs Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller. The TV industry mourned the loss of David Lyle, whose 30-plus-year career included serving as head of National Geographic Channels and Fox Reality Channel. We also lost Guy O’Sullivan, the president and founder of Proper Television and a reality TV producer who brought a bevy of international formats to Canada.

Meanwhile, Morgan Spurlock was among those taken down in the wave of sexual-harassment scandals that came to light recently. The Super Size Me director stepped away from Warrior Poets, the production company he founded in 2004, after penning a confessional blog post about his history of sexual misconduct.

Harvey Weinstein, whose scandal helped to spur the outing of much female harassment in Hollywood, is at the center of an upcoming feature-length documentary commissioned by the BBC. And the year ahead will no doubt see a number of doc projects spotlighting other accused Hollywood heavyweights, the subject of anti-harassment, the #metoo movement and the like.

What else will be trending in 2018? There is sure to be more noise surrounding VR. Last October, Discovery and Google announced the launch of Discovery TRVLR, a new immersive virtual-reality series from Discovery VR and Google’s VR team that will allow viewers to explore unique cultures on each continent. BBC Earth has partnered with Oculus on a trio of VR experiences, which invite users to step into the lives of very distinct animals. Hulu and Live Nation have teamed up on an immersive virtual-reality docuseries, On Stage, which takes viewers into the creative process of an artist’s live music experience.

Streaming services like Hulu will also no doubt continue to exert greater force on the factual-programming business in the year ahead. YouTube has ordered Ultimate Expedition, a new adventure competition show presented by YouTube sensation Jukka Hildén. Netflix will be rolling out Juventus FC, a docuseries about the Italian powerhouse football club. Also, social media platforms like Facebook Watch and Snapchat have been inking deals left and right for original unscripted shows. TV Real will continue to watch this space.

Be sure to sign up for TV Real Weekly and visit to keep up with all the latest trends and developments in the business of factual programming.

About Kristin Brzoznowski

Kristin Brzoznowski is the executive editor of World Screen. She can be reached at


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