Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Sunny Side Takeaways: BREXIT Strands Projects, EC Payback Time, 4K Picks Up, China, SVOD and More…

Here are my quick, top seven Takeaways from the very rewarding and compatible Sunny Side of the Doc:
  • Several UK agents and producers reported that their fast-track projects were recently stranded due to BREXIT uncertainty.
  • Trump wasn’t helping either.
  • They said that many UK broadcast and satellite channels were in an “unofficial buying freeze.”
  • It’s bad news when the wind drops in the #2 English-speaking market.
  • Saturday’s referendum result can only amplify the uncertainty in the UK and across Europe.

One wag attending Sunny Side said:

  • “We won’t miss them because they never turned up anyway!”
  • And that’s true: the Europeans come to Sheffield. But very few English buyers crossed the Channel for Sunny Side and other such markets.
  • There’s more than a bit of ‘payback time’ in the air.

Read my more detailed BREXIT Takeaways below.

la rochelle

Tied up in La Rochelle port

2. China Clamps Down
  • China’s factual sector adopted Sunny Side as a beachhead to enter the global factual market.
  • Chinese delegations have been a celebrated presence at La Rochelle.
  • But this year, China was virtually invisible.
  • Or worse: RARE Media booked a big space and just didn’t turn up.
Key factors are:
  • Communist Party political control on creatives is said to be the most repressive in a generation.
  • Ugly corruption scandals at CCTV and other networks have left executives averse to cross-border deals.
  • Copro’s are limited to Blue Chip partners like the BBC and Nat Geo, and long time insiders like Natural History New Zealand.
  • They are also limited to the safest topics, like Wildlife.
  • Meanwhile, China’s enormous creative commercial energies are directed to surpassing Hollywood as the world’s leading movie market.
  • More to come on China’s documentary bust…
3. Binge Model
  • Unscripted channels are learning from the SVOD binge-viewing model for scripted programs.
  • They are concentrating their diminishing resources on high-budget, signature ‘Tentpole’ programs.
  • For the ‘tent’ of the regular, 24×7 schedule, the sweet spot is a factual series that can run to 26+ eps, and that can be extended as a fast turnaround.
4. 4K
  • 4K is here.
  • For example, Smithsonian Channel has committed to 4K as a key deliverable.
  • Other channels are expanding their 4K pipelines.

5. Archive Coming Back

  • Archive-based projects continue their comeback.
  • It’s part of the return to quality across the factual sector.
  • Key criteria are a cinematic story-telling style, and colorization of the B&W archive, modeled after CC&C’s smash-hit ‘Apocalypse’ series.
  • Plus, we learned of a really big-budget theatrical doc about the Beatles. More to come.

svod def

A slide from the SVOD Panel.

6. SVOD Panel

  • The SVOD CuriosityStream service is a firmly-established and expanding niche player in the factual sector.
  • Australia and Scandinavia are CS’s hot markets outside US and UK.
  • Smithsonian Earth also earned a positive feedback from Sunny Side audiences. “Beautiful graphics  and stunning wildlife sequences” was the verdict.
  • And ZDF Enterprises’ Ralf Ruckhauer saw rapid growth soon in unscripted SVOD in Europe.

7. Current Affairs Sells

  • PBS International reports that Current Affairs is the leading category in sales off its catalog.
  • A Frontline special on ISIS stands out.
  • In troubled times, channels worldwide want relevant, carefully-curated programs from a trusted brand.

8. Next

  • Watch for my detailed profile of the PBS Science strand NOVA. Paula Apsell and Melanie Wallace presented in La Rochelle.
  • And my report on Aussie funding for documentaries by Screen Australia.
  • Nat Geo‘s return to quality.
  • I have much, much more to share in the coming weeks…


  • The Sunny Side turnout was strong. The networking was excellent.
  • It was a most enjoyable, informative and productive event, and a favorite on my calendar with thanks to Yves Jeanneau and the team!
  • Sunny Side Asia will be held in Bangkok in the Fall. More details to come.

More on BREXIT

It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m on a ferry from Stockholm to the Baltic island of Gotland. I spent much of the weekend tracking Brexit.

These are my Takeaways:

  • Brexit will likely be a very hard landing for the UK, particularly for its creatives and the financial sector that supports them.
  • The EC will double down on bolstering its core members.
  • It must impose heavy costs on the UK to show the Netherlands, France and other member states with popular anti-European popular movements that ‘Leave’ means ‘Real Pain’.
  • The EC has a huge incentive to play hardball. It’s a big opportunity for Paris and Frankfurt to capture a big slice of London’s financial services sector… currently around 75% of UK GDP!
  • The City will shrink. Financial markets and non UK corporations will move to Paris, Frankfurt, Dublin, Amsterdam, and after Scotland’s inevitable exit from the UK, Glasgow.
  • And its personal! EC leaders were deeply offended when the Leave team in Westminster compared them to Nazis, and worse. They’re done and dusted with England’s vacillating and insulting leadership. They’re in no mood to ‘play nice’. Ask Greece how that works out!
  • Worse, Westminster will be competing for attention in the corridors of Brussels with a dozen non-EC border states like Turkey, Belarus and Albania.
  • The counter argument is that the UK is too big a European economy for the EC to drive into recession. Scale brings leverage.

Funding for Creatives

  • On a political level, Brexit is bringing to power Tony Abbott-style social and financial conservatives whose ‘small government’ vision opposes cultural funding such as public broadcasting.
  • The English and Welsh creative communities will lose direct EC funding in the hundreds of millions, as well as access to treaties and a multitude of other benefits.
  • For example, I worked on the US sale of a package of Gaelic/Welsh/English copros that was significantly funded by an EC program to preserve regional languages.
  • That subsidy model is over, like dozens more like it that are below the radar.
  • More broadly, the global copro market will take a hit with the devaluation of the pound and the hollowing out of funding in Britain.
  • Read Brexit will ‘blow up’ coproduction foundations

Buckle Up

  • This won’t be like the EC’s genteel and flexible negotiation with oil-rich Norway.
  • England and Wales have it coming hard, and that’s not a good outcome for quality factual television.


  1. Dear Peter,
    I’n a regular reader of your blogs and comments which I value a lot.
    One little comment though on your Brexit notes: You never mention Luxembourg when you talk f.i. about “financial markets and non UK corporations” which will move away from the City. I think that Luxembourg has more than a good chance to take a slice of the cake, some of these non UK corporations might tend to consider tiny, but stable Luxembourg (the green heart of Europe) as an alternative to the City. 🙂
    Best regards

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