Smooth Sailing for Boat Rocker’s Factual Business

Jon Rutherford, the president of Boat Rocker Rights, discusses the company’s factual catalog and what’s working well across the unscripted TV landscape.

Boat Rocker Rights represents factual content spanning a variety of genres, from crime and mystery, documentary, lifestyle, health and wellness, history and civilization, home renovation and design, and music to docu-soap, pop culture and current affairs, reality, sports, travel and adventure, science and technology, and natural history and wilderness. In fall 2017, parent company Boat Rocker Media acquired the principal assets of Proper Television and Proper Rights, a full-service unscripted producer and distributor in Toronto. The deal marked Boat Rocker’s continued growth into the unscripted space, adding some 2,200 half-hours of factual fare to the catalog. This spring, Boat Rocker Media acquired a majority stake in Insight Productions, which specializes in formats.

“We have been very active in the corporate acquisition of various companies over the last couple of years and a restructuring of our existing factual company, which was the Temple Street arm years ago and when we became Boat Rocker, we rebranded the factual arm of Temple Street as Crooked Horse,” says Jon Rutherford, the president of Boat Rocker Rights. “Then we bought Proper Television late last year and just recently Insight Productions.”

He continued: “The shows that have done well for us that came from Proper are more of their Discovery-esque male-skewing reality-entertainment shows like Vegas Rat Rods, Last Stop Garage, Tougher Than It Looks. Crooked Horse has a new food travel show called Late Nite Eats that’s been performing really well, and then this program on artisans creating historical items in today’s era using the original tools, called History in the Making, [has also] done really well for us.”

According to Rutherford, one of the great things about factual programming is that it tends to attract vast global appeal. He notes that Boat Rocker’s unscripted catalog has been enjoying “tremendous” success across Europe, particularly in the areas of reality, science and tech, history, crime, food and home renovation. There has also been a consistent appetite in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the U.S. and U.K. “We’ve grown significantly with a few of our company purchases; that has allowed for the rights division to have a larger footprint across Asia, [where] we’re seeing more opportunities than ever before,” he says. “And then, obviously, Australia has always been a really strong supporter of factual content across their pay and specialty channels.” The company is always looking to expand its factual footprint into more regions, with Latin America as a specific example.

Regarding the ongoing rise in VOD and digital sales for unscripted, Rutherford says it would be “foolish not to pay attention to the opportunities that are growing in that space.” He has also been noticing less volume and more “high-end, prestigious content than ever before,” thanks to the deep pockets of some OTT services that invest heavily in factual programming, bringing in recognizable top-notch talent in order to generate buzz for their platform and establish themselves as a desirable brand in today’s crowded and competitive marketplace.

Looking ahead, Rutherford says Boat Rocker will continue to acquire and work with strong third-party producers to round out the company’s factual catalog, noting the importance of having volume and variety in the unscripted space. “We’ve got different sectors of our business: We’ve got Insight—tremendous format producers in the country—and they’ll continue to produce shows like The Amazing Race Canada, Big Brother Canada and Top Chef Canada. We’ve got Proper—that’s sort of a hybrid of both owned content that has the ability to be exploited to the rights group at Boat Rocker and a really strong format producer, with shows like MasterChef Canada and The Great Canadian Baking Show. We’ve got Crooked Horse producing really strong, sellable content for the group, whether it’s the food genre or science and tech or history. And our third-party business in factual will continue to be strong.”