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:
- AJ has operated doc channels in Arab world since 2007
- AJ Documentary is distributed to 24 countries
- 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.
- Genres: Environment, wildlife, outer space, science .
- Mainly acquisitions.
- Investigative docs.
“Free Lens’ / Feature Documentaries / Experimental Work
- Includes experimental work
- Particularly from young filmmakers.
- Traditional societies all over world.
- 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.
- Also, research commissioned by AJD confirmed that its brand is ‘political and serious’
- “Our strategy is to lighten the grid.”
- 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
- 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
- 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 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.
How Audience Research Can Make or Break Your Pitch
Sunday, January 26, 2014 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM, Georgetown East
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