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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Case Study: Globe Trekker’s Business Model for a Deficit-financed Public TV Series (2/2)

This is part 2 of a two-part post on Globe Trekker, the leading PBS Travel series created by Pilot Productions’ Ian Cross.

  • Last week:  Globe Trekker’s history, distribution and  audience
  • This post: the business model and Takeaways.


Public TV Revenue Model

  • Stations are given programs for free or for a comparatively low license fee
  • The producer sells sponsorships, and keeps this income
  • The producer also keeps revenues from DVD and other product sales


  • WETA is the presenting station for the Public TV system
  • WETA also sells the sponsorships
    • There are 4 sponsor slots
    • Subaru has been on board for 10 years
    • Others have included Merrill (footwear)and several travel companies
    • Not very season is sold out
  • Sponsorship revenues: “They are in the high six figures, rising to over a $ million if the season is sold out”

DVD  Model

  • The DVD’s are offered in a spot that directs viewers to the producer’s website or to a toll-free 800#
  • This spot is embedded at the close of the program
  • The producer is responsible for taking the order, maintaining inventory, and shipping the product

DVD / Other Revenues

  • Contributes around 15% of revenues generated by Globe Trekker
  • Sales are declining every year
  • Pilot also licenses programs to the inflight entertainment market
  • Other minor revenue streams include tasteful product placement, music and licensing footage


  • International appeal is critically important to the success of the series
  • 50% +/- of  annual sales are for the current season, and the rest for the archive
  • IMG represents the back catalog for broadcast
  • Buyers include: ABC (Australia), Discovery Asia, Travel Channel (UK), YLE (Finland), TVE (Spain), PBS (Thailand), Voyage (France), ERT (Greece), France 5, ATV (Hong Kong), SVT (Sweden) and IBA (Israel)
  • There’s comparatively little international DVD activity

Archive / Catalog

Pilot has created a substantial catalog:

  • Planet Food (22 hours)
  • World Café (34 half hours)
  • Metropolis (6 half hours)
  • Bazaar (13 half hours)
  • Adventure Golf (14 half hours)
  • Treks in a Wild World (47 half hours)
  • Pilot Globe Guides (archive) (39 half hours)

Pilot has created 50 +/- ‘new’ and market-able hours out of archive


According to Ian Cross:

  • “Deficit finance: The more we produce, the more we have to deficit finance, and the more cash flow problems we experience, and the greater the risk.”
  • “And the banks aren’t there to contribute at the levels they did in the past.”


  • “We’re moving into the History genre.”
  • “We just produced Ottomans Versus Christians: Battle for the Mediterranean.”
  • “It’s a 3 x one hour limited series that we deficit financed, and we’re out selling it now.”


“The U.S. Public TV model continues to be the platform for our success.”

  • “It’s a unique funding model: Nowhere else in the world can producers license their programs and keep the ‘ad sales’ revenue stream as well as DVD sales.”
  • “However, the model works better for long-standing franchise series, not one-offs or short runs.”
  • “And the model requires the sponsors to commit upfront – otherwise producers face an enormously risky decision to deficit-finance their series.”
  • “The content must be internationally-appealing to support global sales.”
  • “And there are lots of ancillary sales opportunities built into the model, including DVD’s, discreet product placement, and so on.”

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