Inside PBS’s POV Documentary Strand (1/2): How Many Greenlights? The Fees? Budgets? And Rights? Plus Changes at the Top

Personnel changes at POV reminded us to update our detailed profile of the PBS documentary flagship.

  • Congrats to Simon Kilmurry who was appointed Executive Director of the International Documentary Association.
  • Simon served POV for 16 years.

The new key management team is:

  • Chris White, Executive Producer.
  • Eliza Licht, VP of Content Strategy & Engagement.
  • Chris and Eliza are each 14+ year veterans of POV.
  • Justine Nagan of Kartemquin Films is the new Executive Director and EP. Justine started part-time in late September. Welcome to Brooklyn!

Following are the key POV impacts, benchmarks, processes and timelines.

Impact!

In its 28 seasons, POV has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments:

  • More than 400 films.
  • Lots of Awards
    • Seventeen Oscar nominations, eleven since 2005: 5 Broken Cameras, Cutie and the Boxer, The Act of Killing, 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
    • 35 Emmys.
    • Numerous DuPont and Peabody awards, including a recent Peabody for American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.
    • Two Webby noms in 2 years.

Spending

  • $50+ million since 1988.
  • $1 mn per year in production funding and licensing fees.
  • Plus $2 mn / 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, and more via 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
  • 1-3 encores – often of Academy Award nominees or notable films from the previous season

Budget Benchmarks

  • 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: $1.7 million
  • McArthur Fund: $500K
  • NEA: $100K
  • Bertha Foundation: $70K
  • New York State Council on the Arts: $40K
  • Knight Foundation $125K
  • Additional: “Grants and contributions vary from year to year. Our sources include the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Margaret Casey Foundation, Ettinger Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, Fledgling Fund, and the desJardins/Blachman Fund.”

Program Length

Feature Length (82:10)

  • Around 7-8 / year
  • Includes POV branding, sponsor messages, credits, DVD offer, etc.
  • Most include a filmmaker interview
  • (PBS slot is 56:46, or 86:46 for occasional specials)

POV lengths

Hour (52:10)

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

Shorts

  • 3-5 / 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 $40,000 / feature
  • The high mark is $150,000 / film

Rights

  • 6 plays over 4 years
  • Community engagement screenings
  • 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 docs.
  • 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 actively partner with international broadcasters and foundations to help complete budgets.

Thanks

  • POV associate producer Nicole Tsien generously contributed to the research for this report.

Next: The Filters

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

2 comments

  1. Thank you Peter Hamilton. Here in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa I’m always glad to receive your news letters on the industry. Please include on your mailing list my associate
    in Denver, Colorado,

    Kind regards

    Gillian van der Heijden

  2. Thank you Peter Hamilton (and Nicole Tsien) for providing such comprehensive information on financing for the POV strand. I look forward to learning more about the acquisition criteria and selection process. As an independent documentary producer committed to telling socially relevant stories, this kind of hands-on information is invaluable.

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