Is there a way for Factual producers to succeed the old-fashioned way: in U.S. public television?
In this week’s Case Study: How the Globe Trekker series blazed a path to a respectable living for Pilot Productions.
At History Makers and then at Real Screen, we met with Ian Cross, Pilot Productions’ founder and managing director.
Ian began his career as a cadet reporter at the Canberra Times, covering Canberra’s mix of small town goings on and high parliamentary politics.
He went on to serve ABC Australia as a foreign correspondent, and later produced Factual series for Fox and other channels.
This is part 1 of a two-part post on Ian’s Globe Trekker: its history, distribution, audience and business model.
About Pilot Productions
- Company launched in 1990
- 2011 turnover: $6 +/- million
- Staff: 10 employees
- Contract: 12
- Offices: London (HQ) and LA
About Globe Trekker
- 15 seasons
- Format: 1 hour (58 minutes)
- Show: 52 minutes
- Short form: 6 minutes
- 13 episodes / season
- Library: 350 +/- hours
- $220 +/- hour
- Season: $3 million +/-
- Travel Channel as Lonely Planet
- PBS since 2000 as Globe Trekker
- “The U.S. public television 58 minute format is seamless and advertiser-free” says Ian Cross
- “It’s great for ancillary and international sales”
- “Programs created for cable are made in ‘acts’ because of the ad breaks, whereas a PBS show is not interrupted by commercial pods, and is a seamless narrative. That realy appeals to me as a producer”
Distribution & Scheduling
- Globe Trekker is distributed by APT (American Public Television) to 300+ stations
- “We are present in the Top 25 U.S. markets and 98% of the entire PBS market”
- APT earns dues from public TV stations that subscribe to its service
- Stations are licensed for unlimited runs for a year
- There is no common carriage of APT-distributed programs
- Globe Trekker is scheduled on most stations at 9PM on Sunday or Tuesday
- Episodes are stripped on KCET Los Angeles, which recently dropped out of the PBS system over a fee dispute
- “APT’s value is that it has a trusted relationship with station programmers”
- The PBS feed is limited to certain prime time hours and days
- Station programmers look to APT and other sources to fill the remainder of their schedule
- According to Cross “The programmers have the power in the system.”
- “On Public TV, we earn a .9 rating, and up to 2 million viewers per week” says Ian Cross
- “When we were on cable with the Travel Channel, we earned a .1 or a .2 at first, rising to a peak of .4”
We Asked a Programmer at a Major PBS Station Why He Values Globe Trekker?
- “Globe Trekker features an inquiring and spontaneous host (from a small set of hosts who rotate) who experiences a journey through a destination with a “blue highways,” more back-packing than hotel spirit.”
- “The adventures are not pat, the pacing is sprightly and the indigenously-themed world music is propulsive.”
- “The hosts are at times eccentric or at least slightly quirky and appealing characters, they bring a sense of humor, and it is clear that there is no promotional element to their focus and destinations common to travel-related programs.”
Next in Part 2/2:
- Revenue model