StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Sunnyside of the Doc Takeaways: Giant Screen Doc Grosses $126 million, China Local TV Explosion, Smithsonian Channel Presents, ‘SongbirdSOS’ Takes Prize!

Sunnyside of the Doc keeps a steady focus on the global documentary market.

  • This year, 1,600+ delegates packed a thriving conference center.
  • There were lots of really valuable workshops and pitch sessions.
  • And La Rochelle is a very compatible location for conversation, relaxed access to decision-makers, and deal-making.

Here are my Takeaways from SSD 2012.

1.     Definitely Global! But Less Anglo-Saxon

  • There was an infusion of Asian and Latin delegates.
  • They replace many of the old US and UK delegations that have shifted their focus from docs to big characters, or who now attend Sheffield Doc/Fest instead of making the journey to La Rochelle.
  • However, BBC, Discovery International, Nat Geo, CBC and Smithsonian were strongly represented, amongst other leading English-speaking commissioners.
  • The core of delegates remains French-speaking channels and producers.

2.    Doc Syndication comes to China!

  • It’s a broken record at, but China’s doc sector is going to be huge.
  • MIPDoc was all about CCTV Documentary Channel and its 60+ million average prime time viewing.
  • SSD shone a light the very new distribution platform – syndication.
  • This sector is led by RARE MEDIA.
    • RARE is about to provide a 3-hour package of classic, content-driven docs…
    • To 150 channels in 34 provinces.
    • Plus another 1,300+/- city TV stations.
  • RARE is seeking 300 hours, and says that a fund of 1.5 million Euros is available for acquisitions.
  • License fees for individual programs are covered in our upcoming China Mini-study/Consulting package on the emerging Chinese non-fiction market. Email [email protected] for more information.

3.     Smithsonian Channel Steps Out

Smithsonian Channel is a JV between CBS/Showtime and the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest Museum.

  • US distribution is growing rapidly towards the 30 million home mark, driving an expanding audience.
  • The channel commissions and coproduces high quality, content-driven docs that pass the Smithsonian’s ‘curator test’.
  • Smithsonian Channel is active in the international copro market for documentaries and content-driven specials.

Photo: Annette Scheurich, Marco Polo Film 

Programming + Production EVP David Royle captured the Smithsonian Channel’s mission, programming flavors and diverse sources of his schedule by presenting 8 clips:

  • Forensic Firsts – Produced by Story House Productions (Germany/US) in association with Parthenon Entertainment (UK).
  • Hunt for Bin Laden or 9/11: Day that Changed the World – Produced by Brook Lapping Productions (UK). Co-pro with ITV.
  • Titanoboa: Monster Snake – Produced by Wide-Eyed Entertainment (UK) and YAP Films (Canada). Co-Pro with History Television (Canada), ORF and Fremantle Media.
  • The Real American: Joe McCarthy – Produced by HMR Produktion GmbH (Germany).
  • Hope Diamond – Produced by Blink Entertainment (UK). Co-pro with Channel 4, ARTE, NGCI and NHK.
  • Death Beach – Produced by Earth-Touch (South Africa/USA).
  • Ninja: Shadow Warriors – Producer: Urban Canyons (UK). Support from European MediaFund. Co-pro with ZDF/ARTE.
  • Hip Hop: The Furious Force of Rhyme – Produced by Josh Atesh Litle (USA), and Les Films d’Ici (France). Co pro with YLE, ARTE France and LinkTV.

4.     Giant Screen / 3D / IMAX

This unique niche can be remarkably profitable for a handful of long-running hits.

Here are the All-time Top 5, with domestic box office (US millions) and release year. Foreign box office often exceeds domestic.

  • The Dream is Alive  $125.9 (1985)
  • Everest  $87.2 (1998)
  • To Fly!  $86.6 (1976)
  • Space Station  $85.0 (2002)
  • Antarctica  $65.0 (1991)

A very strong GS/3D panel included La Geode’s Laurent Dondey, Colossus Productions’ John Morris and Pascal & Catherine Vuong from N3D Land.


  • Digitization is shaking up the niche.
  • But there are many constants.
    • The biggest is that the primary filter is for family-friendly, 40- or 20- minute films that are screened in museums
    • Producers must deliver a Cinerama-like ‘Giant Screen experience’ to succeed.
  • The Giant Screen revenue stream for docs is still driven by IMAX/3D format cinemas that rely on the IMAX 1570 format or its digital equivalent.
  • Therefore up-conversions from 2D/HD are non-starters. 5.6K output is the baseline for the ‘Giant Screen experience’ and 8K output is an emerging standard.
  • That means big budgets!
    • The $5-7 million range was cited as a benchmark, though certain genres may be less.
    • Many cost much, much more!
  • We will be dedicating more effort to covering the evolving Giant Screen market.

5.     SongbirdSOS Flies High – A Win for a Client!

  • The Canadian wildlife project SongbirdSOS won the pitch competition for Best International Feature Doc.
  • To view the winning trailer, visit
  • Congrats to the winning team of Joanne Jackson, Diane Woods and Su Rynard.

I set the bar very high before I become involved in a production. So why this one?

  • Memory: The spellbinding and often miraculous sounds of Australian songbirds filled my childhood.
  • Threat: We’re now at a ‘Rachel Carson moment’ as songbird species everywhere face extinction.
  • The model: The Canadian team can potentially access a cascade of Canadian funding to execute a major Blue Chip project.
  • Talent: The team has the ability to transform little birds into the ‘Big Characters’ that can counter TV’s stale reliance on big mammals, killer fish, crocs and the like.

Watch this space for more about the issues addressed at a very compatible and Reality-free Sunnyside of the Doc.

(Editorial Assistance: Alexander Watson)

[photospace horizontal_thumb=true num_thumb=4]

LaRochelle market and town                 



  1. “Songbird SOS”
    When I saw this I thought how very little I know about the important things in this world. I am humbled by those whose efforts bring this to the attention of all mankind. I really hope this raises awareness for all of nature and for our future.


Comments are closed.