Neil Duncanson, the CEO of North One Television, talks to TV Real about the distinct tone of the production company’s programming and how the traditionally male-skewing content also draws female viewers.
Twenty-seven years ago, North One Television entered the business as a sports company and subsequently moved into general factual entertainment as well. The outfit was acquired by all3media in 2003. “In a world of brands, it’s important that everyone understands what we do,” Neil Duncanson, the CEO of North One Television, tells TV Real. “We absolutely are a male-skewing company, but what we try to achieve is to make male-skewing shows that actually offer a broader audience potential.” He says North One’s titles “bring in quite an interesting demographic that is not just 90 percent male, or anything like it. We certainly point our thumbs at male-skewing shows, but we try to make them more watchable for everyone.”
According to Duncanson, having a host who is an expert in the field he or she presents on TV helps draw a broad audience that consists of both male and female viewers. “It’s about authenticity,” he notes, pointing to road racer and TV personality Guy Martin as someone who fits the bill. Some of North One’s motoring-related programs featuring Martin include Guy Martin: World’s Fastest Motorbike, Guy Martin: Wall of Death Live, Guy Martin: Speed and Speed with Guy Martin: F1 Special. Martin draws in viewers because “he’s a road racer, and because he’s a world-class racer, we can do challenges with him,” Duncanson explains. “But his passion is in engineering and building things, working with his hands. He’s an amazing character,” which has facilitated the success of a range of shows bearing his name.
North One has also produced travelogues and other types of programs fronted by Martin. This includes Our Guy in China, a three-episode series covering the Yangtze River, Beijing and the Gobi Desert. Such programs have “worked out extremely well, and Martin’s built a fan base that is 50-50 male-female because he’s brilliant on cars, bikes, travel, engineering and mechanicals. He has attracted an interesting audience.”
Similarly, the company’s catalog includes Ronnie O’Sullivan’s American Hustle, featuring the well-known pool player and snooker champion who also pulls in a broad viewership. “The American trip program we did with him last year went very well,” Duncanson said. In Ronnie O’Sullivan’s American Hustle for HISTORY in the U.S., viewers are taken on a journey with the presenter and his friend, sports broadcaster Matt Smith, to explore the country’s 300-year history with the game of pool. The duo makes pit stops in New York City, San Francisco, Memphis and Chicago, seeking out pool shark legends and trying to beat them at their own game. O’Sullivan also has an upcoming show with North One in which he will travel across China.
Another program for which North One has seen widespread success is Paul Hollywood’s Car Nations. The series follows the titular host on a road trip across a country that is well known for its motoring history. Hollywood showcases the fastest, most iconic cars the location has to offer. Duncanson says this show, in particular, has achieved the company’s goal of bringing in a more diverse audience.
According to Duncanson, while viewers may not necessarily recognize the North One logo at the end of the company’s programs, its content carries a unique quality and tone. “We can tell a story well, we have great talent, the subject matter is fascinating, we have good access, good locations and above all, there’s some wit and humor in our shows,” he says.
Looking ahead to the future, Duncanson notes, “We’re mindful of the brand and what people expect from us. We are actually making a food show at the moment, which is quite a way out of our normal Venn diagram. It has our tone to it, and that’s about wit, intelligence and storytelling.” He adds: “It’s with a comic, it’s quite leftfield and not a typical food show, but if we get the tone right, we can attract a broad audience.”