Discovery returning to core values

Former ABC exec Phil Craig talks to producers about Discovery Networks International global opportunities

By James Manning

Four months after arriving at Discovery Networks International as executive vice president and chief creative officer for DNI, Discovery Networks International, Phil Craig was back in Sydney last week visiting the Australian Discovery team and talking with producers the channels are working with now or are hoping to work with in the future.

The former head of factual at the ABC told Mediaweek: “I have a personal connection to the country through my job at the ABC and I am better placed than most to know about the quality of the work that comes out of this country.” Craig spent two-and-a-half years with the ABC.

He added Australian producers have the opportunity to contribute more to Discovery than they have done in the past. “There is an emphasis in our business on what we like to call ‘Local to Global’. That means initially a series might work well in a particular market, but then we can also make them successful all around the world. Our series can come from anywhere. Traditionally most DNI shows were commissioned out of London, but I would like to see an increasing proportion coming from outside the UK.

Earlier in his career, Craig was working for a British production company Nutopia which produced content for Discovery and a range of international broadcasters including the ABC.

As to the breadth of his Discovery role, Craig said: “It’s an exciting moment to be joining the Discovery family. It is a fast-growing business and I would like to see my unit as a centre of high-quality production working with some of the world’s greatest storytellers. We want content that will resonate across lots of different territories and language barriers.

 

“Discovery is currently developing
several series with Australian
production companies.”

 

“The United States operations have historically provided the bulk of the shows and they still will provide a lot of them. But to help build the global reach of this incredible company, DNI will do more.

“One of my aims is to make us the centre of natural history production. It is something I am very interested in and it is global shareable content. The interest that the world has in Australian stories and in particular Australian wildlife means the country can play a big part.”

Craig added: “Discovery is currently developing several series with Australian production companies. We do about 20 series a year on the international slate which is about 125 hours. In addition to that we do regional commissioning just for one market or a number of markets.”

As to the rights Discovery wants from a production house, Craig said: “Discovery has always wanted to be a global storyteller. Traditionally that has meant finding ideas and programming styles that will work across multiple networks in multiple countries. That has tended to mean we want to get as many rights as possible. Producers have wanted to work with us because they enjoyed the creative partnership. They have enjoyed what at times can be quite long runs and the global exposure. We are capable of doing deals – if we want a show we can put a competitive deal together. Our opening gambit is usually we want to take as much of the world as possible.”

Craig is based in London and travels in his role between offices in Latin America, Singapore and North America. “This is an incredible opportunity they have given me.” Craig said Discovery receives many pitches from producers which arrive in the various offices around the world.

“From time to time either I or the team identify a strategic need and either talk to a producer who might have special expertise in one area and we will invite them to come to us and develop a show.”

>> Return to Discovery core values

As to what shows are currently working with audiences, Craig said he is very concerned with what he called a return to core brand values. “That means making shows that remind people of what they fell in love with 10-15 years ago. That can mean taking classic blue chip shows and reimagining them, reinventing them. That means some of the great classic genres on Discovery like adventure, engineering and expeditions.”

In addition to Discovery, which is where most of the commissioned product heads, Craig also commissions for TLC. “We have had quite a lot of success with what we call female factual. One of those series is Extraordinary Pregnancies. We are developing one TLC series with an Australian company now. We are also developing shows for Animal Planet which crosses over into blue chip natural history that I mentioned earlier.”

DNI is not yet ready to announce the new Australian commissions, but there should be something to report soon. What Craig did say was there could be as many as five production companies working with DNI at present.

>> New on Discovery

Of some of the new series coming through now, Craig said he really loves Engine Addict. “Jimmy de Ville is a fantastic talent and it is a good example of what DNI does. I would like to position DNI between what the Americans produce for us and what some local commissions can do for us in particular markets. We can make shows that are effortlessly international but have a particular sensibility you wouldn’t always be getting from American shows. Jimmy is actually a British talent, but every single episode of that show takes place in a different part of the world. There are great characters he meets and works with and he shares his passion for engineering and for racing. There are some very cool international locations and I think it is a cracking show.

“Another show I really like is Life Of Dogs which is our first blue chip/new ship natural history commission in the way we are trying to combine those classic Discovery values in a modern storytelling style. It is also something people might want to watch with the whole family.”

Mediaweek asked Craig how he treats celebrity-based factual. “[We are interested] if the celebrity has an authentic interest in a subject and that comes across. If they don’t then the audience can very quickly smell it. The sense of authenticity is always critical. We have Idris Elba hosting for us. That is the perfect example of someone who hasn’t been just bolted onto a show that we made up in the production house or the commissioning editor’s office. He is absolutely passionate about racing and he lets us into his life in an extraordinary way. It is a great television program.” Idris Elba: King Of Speed is coming to Discovery in 2016.\

 

[blockquote style=”3″]ON THE JOB Phil Craig: “My job is to make programming that complements, but doesn’t copy, what is coming out of America. We get some fabulous shows from the American Discovery networks. We like to think we can do things that are a little bit different, sometimes more perfectly suited for international distribution. Discovery this year is working with a record number of production companies globally.”[/blockquote]

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