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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Al Jazeera Documentary Arabic: What’s the Strategy? And the Deal?

Al Jazeera is doubling down on documentaries within its strategy to expand its role in television programming worldwide.

I meet regularly at international markets with Ahmed  Mahfouz Nouh, the highly respected MD of Al Jazeera Documentary, and we discuss his network’s strategy, scale and operations.

Following is a snapshot based on our conversations:

Al Jazeera Docs Arabic Logo


  • AJ has operated doc channels in Arab world since 2007
  • AJ Documentary is distributed to 24 countries
  • Arabic-language
  • All acquisitions are dubbed
  • AJD may launch ‘AJD Turk’

‘A Compromised Genre’

  • Historically, the doc niche was under the thumb of the regime in each country.
  • The permitted programs were either propaganda, or dull touristic docs, or informational docs.
  • The entire region experienced a loss of trust between viewers and the doc genre.
  • It was double negative for potential viewers: poor programs and no credibility.
  • It has taken AJD 5 years to promote variety and rebuild trust.

Strategic Assessment, 2012-13

  • Completed by BCG (Boston Consulting Group) which studied the grid, and recommended transforming the schedule from genres to strands.

Six Key Strands

This Is Me

  • Positive stories to inspire Arabic viewers.
  • The strand will be the focus for AJD’s commissions.
  • Initially 250 hours, and increasing to 400 hours.
  • The goal is 40% of total programming will be commissions
  • There is no set price.

Universal Secrets

  • Genres: Environment, wildlife, outer space, science .
  • Mainly acquisitions.


  • Investigative docs.

“Free Lens’ / Feature Documentaries / Experimental Work

  • Includes experimental work
  • Particularly from young filmmakers.

People Inspiration

  • Traditional societies all over world.

Original Story

  • Mainly History genre


  • Today, the AJD audience is 35+
  • Wants to lower average viewing age
  • Competing with light entertainment on free satellite, and with Nat Geo Abu Dhabi in nonfiction space

NEW!…………………….SWEET SPOTS 2014………………………….NEW!
Production Cost Benchmarks for U.S. Factual Networks

  • What do 30 channels pay for programs?
  • For docs? And reality?
  • Is our commissioning team paying more or less than the competition?
  • Do preferred producers earn a premium?
  • Does my pitch fall in the budget sweet spot for my target network?

We interviewed dozens of executives and producers to create a unique source of proprietary information about network budgets for commissions and copro’s.

Read More


  • Also, research commissioned by AJD confirmed that its brand is ‘political and serious’
  • “Our strategy is to lighten the grid.”

Sourcing Programs

  • It has been a challenge to move beyond acquisitions to original production
    • Investing in Arabic filmmakers to bring in viewers’ trust and develop a platform of qualified docs.
    • Strategies include commissions, sponsorship of festivals, workshops, visiting prodco’s, inviting them to Doha, networking them, and looking for co-producers.
    • 2008: 22 filmmakers and 22 hours
    • 2013: 200+ filmmakers, and a library of 1,200+ titles
    • Diverse origin of filmmakers: Mostly from Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, Syria/Lebanon and Palestine.
  • AJD is developing original theatrical doc projects.


  • AJD’s Doha HQ sources programs from all over of world
    • 75-80% are acquisitions
    • 1,000-1,200 / year
    • 20 internal productions, from AJD team as well commissioned producers
    • Deal: Full commissions / all rights
    • Format trend: Fewer long series and more one offs and short series


  • Acquisitions:
    • The standard license fee is $3,000
    • Term: 2 years
    • Exclusivity: 3-6 months exclusive for the Arabic world.
    • $70,000 for highly-qualified original, premium programs
    • Productions:
      • Higher fees for unique Signature series.
      • For example, 4 hours on the story of the Crusades told from an Arabic perspective by an Egyptian producer. Budget: $600,000.
      • Also:  a 4 x 1 hour series on the Arabic language.


  • AJD is not rated


  • 8 in acquisitions
  • 7 in production
  • 23 people in 2013, growing to 35 in 2014 

AJD America?

  • AJD can create a block with a double feed to US


  • “Nat Geo Abu Dhabi is our benchmark.”
  • “Very appealing to Arab world.”
  • The schedule is mainly comprised of dubbed international programs


  • Here is the link to AJ America’s Documentaries website.
  • AJ America attracts well-established producers due to the volume of its commissions, even if costs/hour are lower than offered by traditional buyers, like BBC.


Speaking Engagements

How Audience Research Can Make or Break Your Pitch
Realscreen Masterclass
Sunday, January 26, 2014 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM, Georgetown East

Brad DancerMaster Class Leader, SVP, Programming, Planning and Research
National Geographic Channel
Brent StinskiMaster Class Leader, Founder and CEO Media Predict
Peter HamiltonModerator

Asian Side of the Doc
Chengdu, China, March 18-21, 2014
Panel: Crowd-funding Platforms in Asia
Panel: 3D / IMAX/ BIG SCREENS for Docs

Cannes, April 5-6, 2014
Panel: How to Get the Funds: Co-pro’s and Foundations
Interview: Louis Vaudeville, CC&C Paris: The Apocalypse Franchise

AND, don’t miss Hot Docs in the Big TO.
April 24 – May 4, 2014

BTW, We just began to prepare with the Hot Docs team our hot-selling annual International Documentary Program Buyers’ Guide