Inside PBS’s POV Strand (1/2): How Many Docs? The Fees? Budgets? And Rights?

We caught up with POV’s Executive Producer Simon Kilmurry in Toronto at Hot Docs.

Following are the key metrics, processes and timelines of the flagship PBS documentary strand.

Impact!

In its 26 seasons, POV has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments:

  • More than 390 films
  • Lots of Awards
    • Seventeen Oscar nominations, eight since 2005:
      • If a Tree Falls, The Barber of Birmingham, Food, Inc. The Most Dangerous Man in America, The Betrayal, My Country My Country, Street Fight, Hardwood, and more
    • 27 Emmy’s
    • Numerous DuPont and Peabody awards, including an upcoming Peabody for My Perestroika

Spending:

  • More than $50 million since 1988
  • $800K per year in production funding and licensing fees
  • Plus $2 million per year on community engagement, education, online and public awareness campaigns that support each film
  • A funding magnet
    • A POV commitment has given filmmakers the leverage to raise millions more from foundations, private investors and government agencies
  • Audience and community impact
    • Each broadcast premiere reaches more than 1 million viewers, plus online streams
    • Community engagement, educational and online activities are central to all POV campaigns

The Pipeline

POV offers 20-25 films from feature length to shorts

  • 14-16 premieres / year
  • 2-6 encores – often of Academy Award nominees or notable films from previous season

Budgets

According to Simon Kilmurry:

  • On the high end, production budgets are $1 million plus
  • The average is about $375K to $450K
  • And about $200K on the low end

Funding

The annual operating budget for POV is $3.2 million

Sources of funding are:

  • PBS: $1.5 million
  • McArthur Fund: $500K
  • NEA: $100K
  • CPB Diverse Voices: $300-400,000 in 2-3 year cycle
  • New York State Council on the Arts: $40K
  • Additional: “Grants and contributions vary from year to year. Our sources include the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the desJardins/Blachman Fund.”

Program Length

Feature Length (81:25)

  • Around 7-8 / year
  • Includes POV branding, sponsor messages, credits, DVD offer, etc.
  • Most include a filmmaker interview
  • (PBS slot is 86:46)

Hour (51:25)

  • Around 6-7 / year
  • Includes filmmaker interview, POV branding, etc.

Shorts

  • 7-8 / year
  • POV occasionally packages a broadcast hour comprised of half-hours and shorts
  • And many features come in at 70+/- minutes, and they need shorts to fill the slot

Commercial Arrangements

License Fee

  • The basic fee is $30,000/hour or $45,000 / feature
  • The high mark is $150,000 / film

Rights

  • 6 plays over 4 years
  • Sometimes 4/3
  • Online streaming catchup windows
  • Limited PBS Free-VOD

DVD

Filmmakers cut their own DVD deals:

  • “POV often facilitates deals and does not take a rev share”
  • POV offers a DVD promotional tag at the close of each program
  • PBS Home Video often acquires home video rights in deals directly with filmmakers

Takeaways

POV is a major broadcast player for the U.S. independent documentary community:

  • POV, Independent Lens and HBO Docs offer the peak U.S. broadcast slots for feature documentarians.
  • The longevity, scale and prominence of the POV slot all underline the tremendous value of the PBS system to independent filmmakers and their viewers.
  • A greenlight from POV is not a one-stop solution for filmmakers. POV partially funds docs. However, POV commissioners do actively partner with international broadcasters and foundations to help complete budgets.

Next: The Filters

  • POV’s acquisition criteria
  • The selection process
  • Timeline