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Programming Profile

Drive broadens scope with factual series


Four years after expanding into distribution with a big Netflix deal, UK-based funding and coproduction firm Drive is expanding its catalogue into the lighter factual and multi-episode series, available to screen via its C21 Digital Screenings playlist.


Drive was first set up in London in 2013 as a deficit-financing and coproduction facilitator.


The old model of a single broadcaster commissioning a project and paying for the whole thing was evolving as programme budgets went one way and the amount channels could afford to pay went the other. Distributors were starting to move to the front of the chain, as opposed to just flogging finished tape, and the need for companies who knew where to go to find money and partners if you only had 60% of your budget accounted for was growing.


Drive brought together considerable expertise. Lilla Hurst folded her Lillavision consultancy into the business having previously headed up coproduction at Channel 5 and international acquisitions and coproductions at what was then called RDF International. Co-founder Ben Barrett had been commercial director at London-based indie Zig Zag Productions and MD at Extreme International before also forming his own consultancy.


With deep knowledge of the projects they were involved in, and a steady stream of IP emerging from the deals they were putting together, Barrett and Hurst added a distribution element to Drive’s business in 2016. They secured a deal with global streaming giant Netflix for Ronachan Films’ First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon right off the bat.


In sales, the company has since forged a strong reputation for specialist factual series, and stand-out, access-focused single docs. But even before the coronavirus crisis and production shutdown really took hold in the UK, the company had already started to broaden its catalogue out to longer running series and lighter factual entertainment titles that broadcasters suddenly facing big schedule gaps are craving.


Ben Barrett, Drive

“We’ve always had a range of singles and specials that have tended to be big, loud and high quality, which is great. But longer running series are really important for broadcasters and distributors alike,” Barrett says. “A lot of broadcasters at the moment are keen to know there are series with real volume in the pipeline.”


The mixture of the old and new approaches in Drive’s catalogue are perfectly surmised by Helicopter ER, from Air Television for UKTV, a voluminous obs-doc that has already delivered 30 episodes with another 30 coming next year, and Lost Home Movies of Nazi Germany, a 2×60’ RTS Award-winning specialist factual history series from Bright Button Productions for the BBC.


“Specialist factual series, and stand-out, access-focused single docs absolutely fill an area we intend to continue with, but as a growing distributor it makes a sense for us to forge a path more into series, lighter factual and fact ent,” Hurst explains. “We’ve already procured rights in certain series in light of the current appetite of channels that understandably want more escapism and lighter content, without that being at the expense of the traditional specialist factual content that we’ve already got.”


Lilla Hurst, Drive

In the escapism category, Greek Island Odyssey with Bettany Hughes (6×60’), from Sandstone Global Productions for Channel 5, follows historian Hughes as she embarks on an extraordinary journey to unpack the history, new archaeological discoveries, myths and legends of the Greek islands. Scotland’s Scenic Railways (3×60’), from Flint TV for Channel 4, has also been added to
its slate.

Greek Island Odyssey with Bettany Hughes
Greek Island Odyssey with Bettany Hughes


As Barrett points out, travel series that have already wrapped filming and are available as finished tape could become a sought after premium if the travel bans remain in place long term.


“Hopefully, we can all go back to destinations like the Greek Islands in the not-too-distant future, but to have a series that takes people there at the moment is the next best thing, at least allowing people can enjoy them in an escapist way,” he says. “Obviously, there will be a lull in production and availability of these shows in the short to medium term, so we think there’s a strong chance this type of show will do well in the current climate.”

Secrets Of Your Mega Airline Food
Secrets Of Your Mega Airline Food


Hurst says the sales teams have reported back a “mixed bag” of broadcaster attitudes from different territories around the world as the Covid-19 crisis lingers on. “There are certain territories where there is definitely that opportunity and hunger for finished tape to fill schedule gaps,” Hurst says. “There are others where they’re just trying to work out what they’re going to do after falling off a cliff edge of ad revenue losses. Others are more comfortably scheduled until the end of the year and are likely to start engaging with distributors more in the coming months.


“But from what we’re hearing, armchair travel, history and factual takeaway are three really good areas to be in and we’ve got those well covered.”


How the Victorians Built Britain
How the Victorians Built Britain

Two single docs produced by UK indie Icon Films for Viacom-owned commercial terrestrial Channel 5 can be bought separately or together in the factual takeaway area – Secrets of the Mega… Landfill (1×60’) and Secrets Of Your Airline Food (1×60’). Drive has also secured global distribution rights to season two of How the Victorians Built Britain (8×60’), from October Films for Channel 5, to tick the history box.


And the late 1990s/early 2000s trend for documentaries about extraordinary people is another tip for a return with vast swathes of the population stuck indoors looking for engaging content. October Films’ The Mum Who Got Tourette’s (1×60’) for Channel 4, about a woman who develops the swearing tick after her 40th birthday, has been added to the slate to fill that need.


The Mum Who Got Tourette’s
The Mum Who Got Tourette’s

The trend for people looking to keep fit in confined spaces, which has made an internet star of The Body Coach Joe Wicks, is also being tapped into with Tom Kerridge’s Lose Weight and Get Fit (3×60’) from Bone Soup for the BBC. Hurst admits it remains to be seen whether the keep fit trend will translate from on-demand to linear television but has seen “an increased interest from buyers during the lockdown in the get fit and lose weight area. Tom has real warmth and delivers a series that mixes healthy cooking plans and simple exercise routines, that’s something buyers are excited by at the moment.”


“We’re hearing a lot of buyers talking about the fourth quarter and sourcing content for then,” Barrett concludes. “We’re getting asked distinctive questions about whether shows are fully shot and in post already. There’s a lot of talk about Covid-proofing production, but there is still uncertainty about when new content will definitely deliver. For that reason we feel that acquisitions will be the primary focus in the coming months. Our brief to the sales team is to listen to each broadcaster’s specific needs and be respectful of them and the time they may require to work out exactly what they need and when.”

More programming profiles

  • 10-03-2021

    Lilla Hurst and Ben Barrett, joint MDs of leading UK distributor Drive, discuss the opportunities provided by lockdown, the genres that are selling and the new shows on the company’s Digital Screenings playlist.


    UK distributor Drive had its “best year as a business” in 2020, according to joint MD Ben Barrett, who formed the company in 2013 with fellow joint MD Lilla Hurst. While the pandemic has brought extreme difficulties and challenges to many in the TV industry, distribution companies have benefited from huge demand for content, not just as a result of the pandemic, but also due to significant rise in the number VoD services launching globally.


    “We had a really good year last year – our best year as a business,” Barrett says. “Obviously, being in the finished-content business has been a little bit different from being in the production business for the past year. We do a bit of both, so we had a few projects we were working on slow down, while we had other projects in production that we managed to deliver on time. But there have definitely been some opportunities created by the pandemic in terms of content sales.”