Solange Attwood, the executive VP of international at Blue Ant Media, tells TV Real about the trends that are reshaping the natural-history content business.
Blue Ant International has assembled a sizable natural-history and wildlife slate, much of it in 4K. It has done that by tapping into the resources of the broader Blue Ant Media group—namely the Love Nature SVOD service and production companies like NHNZ and Antenna Pictures—and working with third-party producers across the globe.
TV REAL: What have been your strongest sellers—limited event blue-chip productions or longer-running series?
ATTWOOD: We offer a broad range of storytelling in the natural-history category, of which all have performed well for us. Blue Ant International benefits from having a very diverse offering, which is fantastic. There’s so much great work coming out of our global Love Nature brand. One of the shows we’ve had huge success with is Orangutan Jungle School. It was originally commissioned by Love Nature as a long-running, returnable ten-part series. The show is based in Borneo, at a wildlife sanctuary, where orphaned orangutans develop their skills, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming story that allows audiences to feel closer to the natural world. Given the quality of the editorial produced by NHNZ, we were able to secure a presale and a commission with Channel 4 in the U.K. It’s sold to a whole host of other terrestrial broadcasters in Europe and other parts of the world. I believe it will continue to build as a very strong franchise. Other key blue-chip properties include Africa’s Hunters, which features character-driven stories as well as never-before-seen animal behavior.
TV REAL: What qualities do buyers look for in wildlife titles? Setting, access, production techniques?
ATTWOOD: You have to have everything these days. The market is demanding premium content, which requires strong narrative, unique settings, compelling access and innovation in approaches to production. Our natural-history offering is a genuinely global opportunity. We have stories that come from every part of the world. Whether that’s in Borneo through Orangutan Jungle School, or Africa’s Hunters, set in Zambia. Audiences want to be drawn in, they want to feel an emotional connection to the wildlife stories that are being told, and have a deeper understanding of the world around them.
TV REAL: What feedback can you give the companies within Blue Ant, and external producers, on making wildlife shows that will resonate globally?
ATTWOOD: We’re pretty transparent about what works on the global market and what people are looking for. More often we are helpingto secure co-production and presale financing for those stories to be told. [We do that] on those stories that check all the boxes: a great setting, fantastic access, whether it’s never-before-seen animal behavior or a part of the world that people haven’t filmed. Technology is important. Cinematography is important. We’ve made a clear commitment around our 4K offering. We continue to invest in 4K. And we have made the commitment to grow our new slate and make an additional investment into HDR10. You may not necessarily see that right away, but we do believe in the craft of storytelling and the new technology to be able to capture those stories in a meaningful way.
TV REAL: Are there technological innovations in the wildlife sphere that you are particularly excited about?
ATTWOOD: I love the component of HDR. We’ve been working in the 4K space for three and a half years now and the addition of HDR makes for a compelling and beautiful story. You would have seen some great macro cinematography on our previous slate through series like Macro Worlds. We’re seeing more of that and it continues to be compelling. I think the biggest [development] in the last six months is that the bar of editorial storytelling is so much higher. Producers, storytellers and creators are coming up with compelling, thoughtful, smart, emotional and connective stories. Especially in the natural-history world, it’s so important to get all of your senses involved as you go through the journey of watching these stories.
TV REAL: What’s your position on presenter-led vs. presenter-free wildlife?
ATTWOOD: We have quite a few presenter-led series, such as Guardians of the Wild, that have been incredibly successful. And we have a strong blue-chip slate that excludes humans within the context of the editorial. I think it’s important to have both. As a distributor, you want to have a compelling offering that can tell stories in ways that will have broad appeal to people around the world. We want to make sure we have stories that are compelling for all viewers. We won’t shy away from presenter-led stories, even though you often hear that some [buyers] prefer the ease of natural-history stories that don’t necessarily include people, that are evergreen, that are easily versioned. There are pros and cons for each. As a distributor that wants to have a compelling offering, you need to have a diversified approach.