Emily Elisha, the head of factual at Banijay Rights, speaks with TV Real about some of the company’s unscripted highlights.
One of the world’s largest independent distributors, Banijay Rights has a sprawling catalog of more than 20,000 hours of content—with plenty of factual highlights to boot. Within the company’s unscripted slate, crime is a particularly hot category at the moment, according to Emily Elisha, the head of factual at Banijay Rights.
Elisha believes that the success of some high-profile true-crime series—Making a Murderer, for example—has had “a massive impact” on the demand for this type of programming. “Everybody wants their big crime show,” she says. “Some of the larger networks have opened up to crime for prime-time slots, so there are more opportunities as well.”
Banijay Rights recently launched four brand-new true-crime titles in the global marketplace. American Justice is a three-part BBC Two series produced by Minnow Films that offers an “in-depth and unflinching look at the criminal justice system in the U.S. through the prism of several homicides that happen over a long hot summer in Florida’s murder capital,” describes Elisha. “Another series that we have is at the opposite end of the spectrum; it is a high-volume series coming from the States called I Married A Murderer, which tells the shocking stories of couples whose marriages ended in murder. We have 104 episodes of that. We’ve already presold that into the U.K., and other presales are imminent.”
There’s also a second season of I Am Innocent, which uses firsthand testimony from people whose lives were turned upside down after they were accused of and incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. “Murder Calls is a crime series with an interesting angle,” adds Elisha. “It focuses on the telephone calls that helped crack open some of the most shocking cases; in some cases, it’s from the murderers themselves.”
She says that true-crime storytelling has evolved, as audiences are now more used to seeing long-form narrative arcs. “Stories don’t necessarily have to be wrapped up in one show, as a closed-ended program. People are willing to follow stories over a longer period of time,” and a show like American Justice, which examines its topic in-depth, fits along with this trend.
“Lifestyle and aspirational series are really hitting the spot as well,” Elisha notes. “We have a new one called Starting Up, Starting Over, which follows couples and families who have decided to quit their stable 9-to-5 city jobs, sell off their property and relocate to a countryside location and start a business from scratch. It taps into the notion of being your own boss and the elusive work-life balance that we all aspire to.”
Looking at potential acquisitions, Elisha says that overall her eye is on “quality content, particularly that can work in prime time. Also, things that work both as finished tapes and formats work well for us—something like The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, which is a really heartwarming series that lifts the lid on the world of youngsters. Everybody just loves that show! It has been remade in eight different territories already, including second seasons in both Denmark and Spain. The finished tape sells globally across the board.”
She points out that the Banijay Rights factual catalog is “very diverse” and can meet most buyers’ needs. “We have a lot of programming that works for different slots, different platforms. One genre that we’d love to see something new in is the health and medical space. We’ve had great success with Embarrassing Bodies as a finished series and as a format. In the relationship space, there have been a lot of dating shows, but general family dynamic shows that have something to say about our lives are always really sought after as well.”
Elisha says that one of her priorities this year is to find new content partners, “in particular, independent producers who we can help invest across their development slates and work with them on the international strategy for each project. We’ve had a good track record of doing that with other U.K. indies like Minnow Films, Firecracker Films—the list is quite long, but they’ve all gone on to be very successful businesses. We’d love to find that next generation of upcoming producers that we can start working with early to help them grow their business.”
For the second year in a row, Banijay Rights is sponsoring Indielab, an accelerator program for British indie producers. Even though the larger Banijay Group does have substantial production pipes, Elisha stresses that Banijay Rights is open to working with outfits of all sizes to get their product out there to the international market. “Nearly half of our catalog is third-party. We really like to nurture those partnerships, and we like getting in at an early level so that we can add value to a business.”
She says that, in particular, the company wants to work with “people who have a distinctive voice.” And adds, “We can quickly tell a producer if it’s not going to work for us or if it’s not going to work generally in the marketplace. That’s important to know! I would tell producers just to come and talk to us. We will quickly give you a ‘no’ if it’s a no, and won’t waste your time, but if there’s something there, then we hope we can explore that together further.”