BBC Studios: Attenborough’s BBC ties “won’t change” amid SVOD threat

BBC Studios execs have assured that Sir David Attenborough has a “huge and deep relationship” with the corporation that “won’t change” despite an SVOD threat on the horizon.

The comments to TBI come as the veteran presenter’s future at the public broadcaster has been called into question on the back of revelations that Attenborough is not yet confirmed to narrate new projects Frozen Planet II and Planet Earth III.

However, BBC Studios chief creative officer Mark Linsey and director of content Ralph Lee have suggested that Attenborough’s future with the BBC is, in fact, secure.

Linsey told TBI that Attenborough “loves working with us and we love working with him, and that relationship is very, very close. That won’t change.”

Lee added that the presenter has been “a huge, key part” of BBC output, representing “a really strong and powerful relationship”.

Attenborough is set to narrate the BBC’s major natural history offering at Showcase, One Planet, Seven Worlds, which is due out this autumn, in line with previous series such as Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II.

However, prior to that, Attenborough will be the voice behind Netflix’s April-premiering natural history series Our Planet – which marks the streamer’s first major foray into the genre.

He recently praised the reach of the global SVOD in an interview with the Financial Times, noting that, “It’s over 200m people, it’s urgent, it’s instantaneous. And it stays there for months, so it can get an even bigger audience through word of mouth.”

However, Linsey pointed out that Attenborough’s ties with the public broadcaster are “huge and deep, and I can’t see that changing.”

The 92-year-old played a prominent role at the BBC Studios Showcase on Monday (18 February) in Liverpool, taking part in a natural history session for a slew of international buyers in the afternoon and also figuring in the evening’s entertainment.

Patricia Fearnley, head of natural history for unscripted, added that “given [Attenborough’s] age, he tends not to commit to things too far in advance.

“He’s committed to One Planet, Seven Worlds and I think that timeframe is in keeping with when he committed to the last couple of landmark shows,” she said.

Unscripted portfolio director Mark Reynolds highlighted that the scheduling of narrators closer to post-production is “not specific” to Attenborough.

“Certainly when [teams] get into the last year of production, they start to think about who is the right voice. In every genre, that comes quite late in the day. At this stage, he’s doing this year’s series, and at the appropriate time he’ll be spoken to about [the next shows], but it’s all down to his choice as well.”

BBC Studios Showcase runs from 17 to 20 February.