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Documentary Business

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Oprah’s Documentary Club Picks Three More: How Many Slots Left? What are they Paying?

OWN The Oprah Winfrey Network announced the acquisition of three documentary films for Oprah’s Documentary Film Club

  • One Lucky Elephant follows circus producer David Balding as he struggles to find a nurturing home for his beloved orphaned baby African elephant. The film was ten years in the making
  • 65 Redroses captures the spirit of a 23-year-old Canadian woman suffering from the fatal genetic disease cystic fibrosis and awaiting a double lung transplant
  • Most Valuable Players covers three theater troupes hitting the Freddy Awards, a live television event honoring outstanding high school musical theater in New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania

The documentary club is scheduled to launch in spring 2011.

Previously Announced Acquisitions

OWN acquires feature documentaries in a partnership with ro*co productions.

  • At the 2010 Sundance Festival, ro*co and OWN announced their first acquisition, Family Affair:  “At 10 years old, Chico Colvard shot his older sister in the leg. This seemingly random act detonated a chain reaction that exposed unspeakable realities and shattered his family. Thirty years later, Colvard ruptures veils of secrecy and silence again. As he bravely visits his relatives, what unfolds is a personal film that’s as uncompromising, raw, and cathartic as any in the history of the medium.”
  • Life 2.0: Second Life is a virtual online world of 500,000+/- residents. In Life 2.0 we meet several residents who have been drastically transformed by their new lives in cyberspace
  • Sons of Perdition: The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints compound on the Utah/Arizona border is a polygamous community led by prophet Warren Jeffs. In 2003, Jetts excommunicated hundreds of prominent elders, giving their wives and children to other men. Hundreds of teenage boys were exiled to neighboring communities. Sons of Perdition tracks three young exiles who find themselves suddenly penniless and adrift in mainstream America. The BBC’s Storyville strand  participated

Celebrity-hosted Specials

On July 26, 2010 OWN announced partnerships with five Hollywood celebrities to produce original, two-hour documentary features. These commissions are not necessarily for the Documentary Club strand:

  • Julia Roberts: Extraordinary Moms is about real-life inspirational mothers
  • Forest Whitaker: One Last Shot tells the story of a hospice program inside Louisiana’s Angola maximum security prison in which the average prisoner is serving over a 90-year sentence
  • Goldie Hawn:  Searching for Happiness is about positive psychology and our search for a happy life
  • Gabriel Byrne: Tent City explores a community of homeless people in Nashville
  • Mariel Hemingway: Seven Suicides looks at her family’s legacy of suicide and depression

How Many More to Acquire?

Of the 12 monthly ‘Documentary Club’ slots in Year 1:

  • 6 are ‘cinematic’ docs that were acquired through the ro*co partnership
  • The 5 celebrity-hosted docs are not necessarily intended for the Doc Club:
    • If they are included, that leaves 1 more ‘Documentary Club’ film to be acquired by ro*co for screening through February/March 2012
    • And if all of the celebrity films are broadcast as Specials, ro*co will acquire 6 more features in the coming months

ro*co is actively seeking new documentaries to acquire for the Club for Year 1 and beyond.

($’000 / hour)        

  • We reported in an earlier post that the commissioned ‘celebrity special docs’ are budgeted at close to $450 / hour
  • Talent fees are additional

The budgets for the OWN originals are higher than for OWN’s acquisitions via the ro*co partnership.

  • Acquisition fees are comparable to the license fees paid by HBO Documentaries
  • HBO is the market leader amongst widely-distributed channels in commissioning and acquiring feature documentaries

The range of OWN’s acquisition fees is:

High $150+/-
Sweet Spot $125+/-
Low $80+/-

———————————————————————————————— ‘Sweet Spot’ Report

Coming soon for purchase: our original research findings about the  ‘Sweet Spots’ for commissions and acquisitions for 25+/- U.S. channels.

The ‘Sweet Spot’ Report covers:

  • Network budget benchmarks for original commissioned programs
  • Several levels: Signature, High, ‘Sweet Spot’ and Low
  • We cover ‘the biggies’ and diginets
  • And license fees for acquisitions

The ‘Sweet Spot’ Report will be available for purchase in December.


OWN: The Scale Test

When it was annnounced, Oprah’s Documentary Club was touted as a potential ‘game-changer’ for the doc field, comparable to the impact her Book Club made on book publishing.

But as we approach launch, we can see that Oprah’s Doc Club will  acquire 7-12 feature docs for Year 1 at a cost of $800,000+/- to $1,500,000+/-.

  • That’s definitely good news for everyone connected with those films
  • And Oprah’s promotional sizzle may generate excitement that ripples across the field
  • But the entry of one new buyer to the market does not qualify as a game-changer

To continue with the scale test:

  • HBO’s Documentary unit commissions or acquires 45+/- films / year
  • And at an estimated cost of $25+/- million

Network Launch & Lineup

Previous Posts on OWN & Docs

Read our previous posts for more information and analysis:

And don’t miss our report on the newly cash-positive Documentary Channel


World Congress of Science and Factual Producers
Tuesday, 30 November, 3:30PM, Dresden, Germany
Panel: Profiles of U.S. Science & History Commissioners
Susan Werbe
, History Channel
Michael Hoff, Hoff Productions
Dawn Porter, Trilogy Films
Peter Hamilton, Moderator

If you are attending Dresden, contact Peter Hamilton now to schedule a time to chat about your strategy.



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