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Discovery free to ‘reinvent’ natural history post-BBC deal

Discovery International Networks’ content boss, Luis Silberwasser, has told TBI the expiry of a natural history programming deal with the BBC is freeing it to reinvent the genre.

The pay TV channel operator and UK pubcaster ended a longstanding natural history production partnership last October. The joint effort had yielded blue-chip series including Life and Blue Planet. As the deal was wound down, BBC Worldwide said it would invest in natural history and factual content it could distribute internationally.

“Natural history is an important element of the programming on Animal Planet and Discovery, we enjoyed our relationship with the BBC, but I am enthusiastic about what we can do on our own,” Silberwasser, Discovery Networks International’s chief content officer, said. “Andrew Jackson has been brought in to find a new way of doing natural history and Julian Bellamy’s programming group are doing the same.”

Silberwasser highlighted North America and upcoming three-parter The Mystery of the Lost Islands, in which host Dave Salmoni enters inhospitable terrain to unravel wildlife mysteries, as examples of what Discovery can achieve in the wake of the BBC deal lapsing. “The Mystery of the Lost Islands is a new approach to the genre – it has some adventure, some mystery and great natural history elements,” the Discovery exec said.

North America went out on Discovery last year and three-parter The Mystery of the Lost Islands (fka Killer Islands) is in production for Animal Planet US, where it will air next year, and DNI, which will launch it later in 2014. Both are made by Silverback Films.

Separately, Silberwasser added that having acquired Betty and Raw in the UK, it could move for international prodcos outside the UK.

“We’re always looking at opportunities to benefit the international group and we look for outfits that can fill a gap,” he said. “A lot of people do TLC-type programming but it tends to go to the BBC or Channel 4 and we wanted to stronger access to that content so we bought Betty. Raw was a key supplier and have great talent in [founder] Dimitri [Doganis] and [creative director] Bart [Layton]. It could be in other places beyond the UK we find a similar need for local production or access to a studio – we may find one that makes sense.”