Ocean will be the focus of the Tuesday night activity for buyers at the BBC Worldwide Showcase next week, with the commercial arm of the BBC handing the natural history series the premium slot usually reserved for huge formats and entertainment shows (Top Gear last year), or talent-filled drama (Wolf Hall in 2015).
Although the evening event is ostensibly about PR, it is a sign of the high expectations Worldwide has for the show, notably after the success of Planet Earth II, which managed to make wildlife more popular than Simon Cowell and X Factor in the UK.
The now iconic ‘iguana vs. snake scene’ from Planet Earth II also drew a spontaneous ovation from buyers at a Showcase screening last year.
“Success breeds confidence in the producers and their ability to get an audience, and achieve that scale,” says BBC Worldwide’s factual chief Mark Reynolds. “You hope to get the family audience, but we didn’t necessarily expect to get more young viewers than the talent show on the rival channel.”
Winning millennial viewers can take docs beyond the slots on mainstream channels reserved for shows considered specialist factual, he adds, especially as many want to skew younger.
If Ocean can repeat the success of Planet Earth II then Worldwide will deliver on the promise of providing broad, blue-chip shows that can win family as well as younger viewers.“Ocean is a key piece for later in the year,” Reynolds says. “We hope it can replicate the Planet Earth II success; the same ambition, and use of technology is brought to bear.”
Taking viewers – and buyers – underwater will mean a journey to one of the least explored parts of the planet. “A key effort has been to conquer outer space, but there is so much unknown in the ocean – and there is a lot of scientific research to unpick, and amazing stories and unusual behaviour.”
Ocean is the biggest underwater BBC natural history series since Blue Planet in 2001, and filming technology and the editorial approach have moved on since then. “Storytelling has changed,” Reynolds says. “It’s a balance between being true to the animals’ behaviour and allowing the audience to engage with the emotional part.”
Ocean will be the centrepiece, but Showcase will also be about selling finished shows and getting new projects underway.
“It’s good to have the autumn shows fully delivered and to have enough to give a proper update,” Reynolds says. “The sales team is there to talk to buyers and close deals at year-end, and we can also continue coproduction and presale discussions.”
There is a coproduction forum that will see seven new titles pitched for the first time, ranging from smaller projects to the higher end blue chip series (Planet Earth II was originally pitched at the copro session). “The biggest titles won’t happen unless there is enough interest from commissioning broadcasters,” Reynolds says, underlining the importance of getting the pitch just right at Showcase.
Showcase launches include Elephant Family and Me (above), and Spy in the Wild, from producer John Downer and his prodco, and which has both the BBC and PBS on board. “It’s great to do natural history in a different way and John is a pioneer in that respect,” says Reynolds.
The series uses cutting edge spy cameras, often hidden inside animal dummies, to capture footage from inside animal families.
There will also be Mission Galapagos from Atlantic, which recently made David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef for the BBC, and Civilisations (right), looking at how art has shaped civilisation and hailing from Nutopia, the prodco run by former BBC2 controller Jane Root.
The PBS connection is also evident in Great American Thaw (aka Yellowstone), about the US park, and Mountains, about iconic mountain ranges, which both count the US broadcaster as a partner.
With The Jinx and Making a Murderer spurring interest in crime, Worldwide will also present Love and Hate Crime to buyers. The series, for online net BBC Three, looks at groups that face victmisation for being different.
“Crime is always popular, but often has a particular country perspective,” Reynolds says. “It depends on the way you tell them, we have some that appeal globally; last year it was The Murder Detectives, a show that played out like a drama.”
In the run-up to Showcase TBI has been taking an in-depth look at the drama, formats, factual and kids offerings for buyers in Liverpool.