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BBC Studios NHU on Delivering Natural-History Content for the World


Founded in 1957, the BBC Studios Natural History Unit (NHU) produces natural-history content that travels the world, utilizing cutting-edge technology and innovative techniques while putting a premium on powerful storytelling. “Our mission is to engage and inspire a global audience of all ages and backgrounds so that they love, understand and protect the natural world,” says Ben Clarke, head of commercial and business development at the NHU. “The climate emergency means there has never been a more important time to be making environmental and wildlife shows for global audiences.”

***Image***Climate change is but one of many global challenges of the modern age that serve to raise the value and importance of factual content that helps viewers understand these events and their impact on the international community, according to Clarke, who also notes the influence of the market’s global nature on how productions are sourced.

One effect of the Covid-19 global health crisis, Clarke notes, is that the industry has been pushed “to utilize the international talent pool, and the efficiency, carbon savings and final results speak for themselves. Over the decades, the NHU has built up a truly global network of fixers, crews, scientists and other specialists that we have increasingly depended on to keep our productions moving through the global pandemic.”

Clarke adds, “Utilizing our existing international talent pool is just the start of a bigger opportunity to bring fresh storytellers from all over the world to the fore.”

Another trend in the business that Clarke has witnessed is the rise in A-list celebrities boarding factual titles, both in front of and behind the camera. “It can [help] cut through in an increasingly crowded field and attract audiences fragmented across multiple platforms and services,” says Clarke. The NHU is co-producing Prehistoric Planet for Apple TV+ alongside Jon Favreau and working with James Cameron on the forthcoming OceanXplorers for National Geographic/Disney+.

With global streamers like Apple TV+ and Disney+ now heavily investing in factual, Clarke has seen a boost in commissioning opportunities as well as more competition for stories, access and talent. “The market is probably the most competitive it has ever been,” says Clarke. “With the increase in demand and supply, there may be a tipping point away from blue-chip landmarks as the market matures, which is why a diverse portfolio is key to continued success in this genre.”

Moving audiences emotionally is also a pivotal component of the NHU’s content strategy. Clarke points to Endangered for Discovery, which helped raise over $1 million for narrator Ellen Degeneres’ conservation fund to help protect Red List species. David Attenborough’s BBC landmark The Green Planet, meanwhile, sees him standing beside a giant 3,000-year-old sequoia tree as he informs the audience that the Earth’s biodiversity depends on protecting plant life.

“We are increasingly complementing our TV programming with conservation initiatives such as the digital impact campaign #OurGreenPlanet that sits on Instagram and BBC Earth and takes viewers of The Green Planet to a destination that will inspire them to protect plant life,” says Clarke.








About Chelsea Regan

Chelsea Regan is the managing editor of World Screen. She can be reached at cregan@worldscreen.com.

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