ABC Oz ‘will turbo charge natural history and can rival the BBC’

Phil Craig, the head of documentaries at Australian public broadcaster the ABC, says that a new international outlook and partnership with its US counterpart PBS means it will be able to rival the BBC in terms of international influence in the natural history sphere.

Craig was speaking at the Sunny Side of the Doc event in La Rochelle, France. He said that Australian factual content had hitherto struggled to make an impact beyond domestic shores because of the local funding and grants system, which requires local stories that often do not resonate internationally.

However, the factual chief, who joined the ABC from Jane Root’s US-based prodco Nutopia late last year, is spearheading a drive into a new kind of documentary programming with a wider commercial appeal.

He highlighted natural history series Kakadu, about the Australian eponymous national park, as an example. “This was a new kind of natural history following big characters and with that American commercial docusoap twist,” he said. “It has the drama of a show like The Deadliest Catch, but mixed with classy natural history.”

US publicly funded broadcaster PBS duly bought in and is now co-funding a follow-up series to Kakadu.

“It’s a new kind of natural history and the US and Australia have joined forces to compete with the traditional power broker in natural history, the BBC. We hope to create a US-Australian competitor. We will no longer be just producing for Australian viewers in the same way the BBC doesn’t just commission for UK viewers.”

Kakadu is produced by Northern Pictures and Beach House Pictures, both part of ex-Fox executive David Haslingden’s Australian-based factual super indie in the making.

Beach House has adapted four-part Kakadu into a full, ten-part series for the international market. The international version will be known as Outback Rangers.

Craig’s bold proclamation and Beach House’s work underline the growing importance of Asian and Southern Hemisphere companies in the factual world. At Sunny Side this week, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV had a high profile and was talking about how partners in the west can work with its CCTV-9 documentary channel.

First time sponsors and/or exhibitors at Sunny Side also included CCTV and SMG from China, Japan’s Fuji TV and TV Tokyo and South Korea’s KBS.

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