There has been a spate of recent announcements out of Plimsoll Productions, including naming a new head of development for natural history and science and installing its first-ever head of adventure. Last year, the company also made a big move to expand its U.S. footprint with the addition of the head of Plimsoll USA post. With its ten-year anniversary in view, Grant Mansfield, founder and CEO of Plimsoll Productions, reflects on the shifts in the factual production business over the last decade and the state of non-scripted programming today.
TV REAL: Approaching ten years in the industry, what are the greatest shifts you’ve seen in the factual programming business in the last decade?
MANSFIELD: Well, the most obvious shift, of course, is the rise in demand for unscripted content on streaming platforms. The particular benefit for Plimsoll has been in the natural history space, where the streamers have been real creative game-changers, encouraging ambition and innovation and backing shows with significant budgets. More generally, best-in-class talent, both on- and off-screen, has become increasingly important. For example, ten years ago, you’d be highly unlikely to see a movie star on a factual show; these days, it’s actually pretty common, and I suspect a permanent shift.
TV REAL: As you look across the factual landscape, what seems to be working best nowadays?
MANSFIELD: Reality, adventure, docusoaps and premium natural history continue to dominate, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. In the end, what always works best is a terrific, timely idea, brilliantly executed on the right platform. If only it were as simple as it sounds.
TV REAL: What are the challenges in producing in the natural history genre in terms of costs and production values?
MANSFIELD: First, get yourself a best-in-class production management team; that’s what we have at Plimsoll. Making these shows involves incredibly detailed and complicated filming trips across every continent on the planet. And to do that, you have to think very carefully about how you’re going to spend your clients’ budgets smartly and wisely. It’s our job to ensure their money ends up on screen, not on failed shoots (animals have a habit of no-shows and, unsurprisingly, don’t respond to direction). And, of course, you need brilliant producers with impeccable contacts within the scientific community, which is why Plimsoll’s natural history department is 200-strong and contains many of the world’s top wildlife filmmakers.
TV REAL: What has led to Plimsoll expanding its U.S. presence?
MANSFIELD: From day one, even when there were only four of us (there are now more than 300), the U.S. was always my prime focus. I’d just returned from three years working and living in L.A., where the creativity and the size of the opportunity both astonished and excited me in equal measure. And things have only become more exciting since then stateside. The recent hire of Alan Eyres as head of Plimsoll USA is a sign that we believe the U.S. remains our primary market with plenty of untapped opportunities to exploit.
TV REAL: What trends in the unscripted business are driving your focus for Plimsoll for the year ahead?
MANSFIELD: Apart from our core business of natural history and premium popular factual, we are enjoying some success in a new space for us: adventure. One of our executives, James Smith, has just been appointed to one of the best-sounding job titles in television: head of adventure. James has spent most of the last two years filming two shows with the world’s greatest climber, Alex Honnold. And there’s more to come in this space.