Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Discovery Canada: What do they want? How many hours? Who’s watching?

One of the most persuasive presentations I ever saw was by Discovery Canada founder Trina McQueen.

  • The pitch was to the CRTC, the Canadian body that regulates cab/sat carriage and subscriber fees.
  • Her lead-in was a hippie/cowboy character who brought a live cheetah to Ottawa. It snoozed on the conference room table as the cowboy pitched his vision of a Canadian wildlife channel.

Canada had wisely established a regulatory framework that:

  • Limits foreign ownership in licensed channels to 25%.
  • Mandates carriage by operators and the fees they pay programmers.
  • And requires a level of Canadian content.

The Cancon framework is further supported by a network of tax treaties, government rebates for local production spend, and various grants.

The outcome: a factual programming industry that is Canadian-owned and thriving, at least compared with relative deserts like my comparably-scaled home of Australia.

McQueen thoroughly convinced the CRTC, and Discovery Canada is now a member of the Bell Media family of channels that includes the broadcaster CTV as well as Animal Planet, ID, Bravo E! and many others.

Discovery International

  • Because of Canada’s 25% equity limit, Discovery Canada is a rare affiliate of Discovery Networks International rather than a wholly-owned operation.
  • Discovery International now operates 142 international networks in 217 countries and territories, reaching over 1.3 billion cumulative subscribers and as we reported recently, contributing  around 40% of Discovery’s $30Bn ‘enterprise value.

Here is the first of several planned posts on Canada’s factual sector…



Profile / Branding

The world is just awesome! With compelling real-life programming that inspires and entertains, Discovery Canada reveals the world in all its wonder, diversity and amazement.

Discovery Canada offers a signature mix of adrenaline-charged stories, larger-than-life personalities and vivid imagery for viewers with curious minds.

With the best non-fiction programming from Canada and around the world, Discovery Canada captures the excitement of a passion for life—one lived fully and at its most extreme.

With exceptional and immersive storytelling, the channel offers in-depth, behind-the-scenes glimpses at the extraordinary people and places that shape our world.


  • Launch: 1995.
  • Now in 8+ million Canadian homes.

Pipeline / Year

  • Estimated Number of New Hours Commissioned for 2012: 150+
  • Canadian content:
    • Prime: 60%
    • Broadcast Day: 50%
  • Discovery US hours: 750
  • Acquisitions: 60


We called several producers for estimates of typical budgets for prime time specials:

  • Budgets for Canadian commissions can be C$300 / hour and more, including contributions from copro partners and tax credits.
  • The Canadian Media Fund can match the license fee on eligible productions.
  • Acquisitions may be as low as C$25K.

Discovery Canada is Looking For…

Series and two-hour specials in the following themes:

  • How Things Work
    Does your cell phone really interfere with an airplane’s instruments? (MythBusters) How do they make skate blades and sand paper? (How It’s Made). Do you think shooting fish in a barrel is easy? Why does a light bulb explode when sprayed with drain cleaner?
  • Science, Technology and Engineering
    The cutting edge of science’s biggest, best and greatest stories. Hop on board the world’s biggest plane (Mighty Planes) or the world’s largest cruise ship, “Oasis of the Sea,” as it sets sail on its maiden voyage (Mighty Ships).
  • Mysteries
    Including everything from conspiracies to prophecies to historic puzzles revisited through modern forensics. What’s the surprise? The twist? The unexpected pay off?
  • Innovative Yet Accessible Approaches to Hard Science
    Find out what is at the bottom of the sea when you are allowed to pull the plug and Drain the Ocean and Drain the Great Lakes.
  • Innovative Ways of Solving a Challenge
    • Which is the best way to get a drilling rig to Canada’s frozen north when the roads are impassable? Floating it up the mighty Mackenzie River or flying it in on the MI-26T, the world’s biggest helicopter? (License to Drill)
    • They call it the Bermuda Triangle of trucking: 100 kilometers of four lane hardtop that cuts through the heart of the Cascade Mountains.  It’s a road that should never have been built, but it’s become too critical to close.  Steep hills, lethal drop offs, killer rockslides and wicked weather all gang up to make this route a trucker’s worst nightmare.  Jack-knife your rig here, and your load will be dangling from a 400 foot cliff before you can undo your seatbelt.  (Highway Thru Hell)

“All of our programming captures the same core elements—curiosity, surprise and great takeaway.”

  • “Our viewers have told us that they want programs that are as much about the ‘wow’ as the ‘how.’”
  • “This means credible information and strong storytelling delivered in an entertaining package.”

Typical Viewer: Male 18-49.

“He comes to Discovery Canada because he knows what to expect—intelligent television that is also entertaining.”
“His curiosity factor is high and he asks the simple questions: How big? How high? How fast?”
“He likes to know how things work.”
“But he doesn’t like to be told how to do something; instead he enjoys the process of figuring it out.”
“He won’t sit through a prosaic science lecture; he wants to be brought into the story as a part of the action.”
“His science must be visceral and experiential.”

Key Executives

Paul Lewis, President / GM
Ken MacDonald, Vice President of Programming
Lindsay Cowan Dotchison, Director of Programming
Edwina Follows, Director of Commissioning & Production
Patti Torrence, Senior Manager of Programming & Acquisitions
Heather Williamson, Manager, Program Development

How to Submit


  • Factual is the “hottest category” in Canada:
    • History and Discovery are the #2 and #3 networks respectively amongst all 300+ Canadian cable channels.
  • “The title has to tell you everything in Canada’s cluttered 300+ channel environment.”
  • Series are favored. One-offs include occasional big, blue-chip specials.
  • Canada’s leverage in the global factual co-production market is reinforced by tax treaties with France, Ireland and others.
  • Production rebate programs can recoup as high as 70% of budgets in certain provinces.
  • For example, a delegation of accomplished Manitoba producers attended Real Screen 2013. They were led by On Screen Manitoba.  Manitoba offers one of Canada’s most attractive rebate programs.
  • But opportunities for Canadian factual producers are being trimmed by national and provincial budget-cutting.
U.S. / Canadian ‘Twinning’
  • Don’t miss our analysis of ‘Twinning’ between US and Canadian producers to share tax benefits.
  • Author Richard Hanet is a former Alliance Atlantis attorney who has worked on numerous ‘twinning’ projects, including with Discovery and A+E Networks.


International Documentary Buyers’ Guide 2012

An invaluable and unique resource for producers who are seeking international partners

  • 37 channels and slots
  • 40+ buyers
  • 17 countries

What do the Channels Want?

The International Documentary Buyers’ Guide answers these questions:

  • Which channels worldwide buy documentaries?
  • How many do they buy?
  • What are their dedicated slots?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What their filters?


  • Are the buyers open to international partnerships?
  • Who are the key contacts?
  • How can you reach them?

Also, whenever we have the data:

  • What do the channels pay?
  • For acquisitions?
  • For co-productions?

The Buyers’ Guide is an invaluable resource for producers who are working on their strategies for pitching ideas or selling completed programs to channels.


17 countries

  • Australia, Canada, China, Columbia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, the United States and more

37 broadcasters

  • SBS Australia, PBS, ITVS, Astral Media, CBC News Network, CBC, Discovery Channel Canada, High Fidelity HDTV, Knowledge Network, Shaw Media, SRC- Canada, Super Channel, TVO, ZoomerMedia, CCTV Documentary Channel, Hunan TV Station, RTVC, DR Denmark, YLE Finland, ARTE France, NDR Germany, Noga, yesDocu, Rai Italy, NHK Japan, Once TV México, AVRO Netherlands, NRK, SVT & SVT2, BBC, A&E, POV, CNN, Documentary Channel, HBO, Link TV, NBC Universal and more


  • Executive Personnel
  • Channel Profiles
  • Documentary Profiles
  • Recent acquisitions and green lights
  • Analysis of how and what broadcasters are looking to acquire
  • Current strands
  • Final takeaways so that you can make informed, research-backed decisions


  • Links to broadcaster websites
  • Further valuable reading and resources from

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