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FTV, CBC, ZDF among pubcasters launching science doc co-funding effort

SSOD: France Télévisions (FTV) has launched a major global co-funding initiative with six other public broadcasters in a bid to attract more ambitious high-end science documentaries.

Caroline Béhar

Joining FTV are Canada’s CBC, Germany’s ZDF, the UK’s Channel 4, Sweden’s SVT, Austria’s ORF and Australia’s ABC.

Launching the initiative at Sunny Side of the Doc (SSOD), Caroline Béhar, FTV’s head of international coproductions and acquisitions for documentaries, said more international co-funding was necessary to help producers in the current climate.

Despite a strong appetite for science programming among viewers, seen especially during lockdown, Béhar noted that quality science projects had been difficult to find since the start of the pandemic in 2019.

They had been either tough to finance due to there being more fully commissioned projects around or were affected by rights exclusivity among big competitors.

The seven partner pubcasters all share “the same dedication” to programmes targeting a large audience, said Béhar. “We felt we should go one step further and unite our forces to create a common initiative together,” she said.

Significantly, projects will get secure financing quickly and partners “will get the best from the international market,” said the exec.

Kristina Hollstein

The latest initiative expands on FTV’s existing Global Doc coproduction scheme, which the French pubcaster launched at SSOD in 2019 and has so far spawned 20 international collaborations.

The new scheme will back three science doc specials, two dealing with ancient civilisation, archaeology, palaeontology and geology, and one on how cutting-edge science can provide solutions to save the planet.

Preferred criteria include epic adventures with international scope, and emotionally engaging stories appealing to a wider audience with a revelation and exclusive access.

There will also be a focus on gender equality. “We really want to have women writing, directing and producing. It’s important for us,” said Béhar.

Kristina Hollstein, responsible for documentary acquisition and coproductions at ZDF and who joined Béhar for the announcement, said the new market reality made content exclusivity very important for ZDF’s primetime slots.

“We need to find partners to be able to finance the big specials for primetime together,” she said.

Being part of the initiative wasn’t just about funding big specialists projects but also about the cooperation and knowledge shared between partners, making other programmes possible, Hollstein added.

Sue Dando

“What I love about this project is that it’s a group of like-minded broadcasters who are getting together in order to take on some of the global streamers who can just write a cheque,” said Sue Dando, head of CBC’s flagship science series The Nature of Things.

“This way, I get to leverage my amount of money as a public broadcaster – and those budgets are not going up – and put it together with all of these colleagues in order to get those big, ambitious projects funded.”

Instead of a producer having to approach six different funders, “if you’re one of the winning teams, you’ve got it as soon as the project is chosen,” Dando said. “What makes us different is the fact there’s a substantial amount of money upfront for three projects.”

Each winning bid is guaranteed a minimum of €300,000 (US$315,000) in funding, further boosted by additional copro partners and tax rebates.

The call for projects runs until October 14, with the winners to be announced at the upcoming World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, which this year will be held in Glasgow from November 28 to December 1.


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