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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

Blue Ant International

Programming Profile

The doc dividend

24-08-2020

With scripted facing production issues due to the pandemic, unscripted is seeing growing demand. Ludo Dufour of Blue Ant International talks us through his slate on C21 Digital Screenings this week.

 

The production freeze brought about by the coronavirus pandemic dealt a major blow to the global content industry. But for Blue Ant International, a global distributor based across LA, Toronto and London, the production freeze brought about by the pandemic dealt a major blow to the global content industry. Blue Ant had to adapt quickly and doubled down on its efforts in the non-fiction space.

 

Blue Ant prides itself on being home to a range of specialist factual titles, and the sudden halt in the scripted industry meant the company could use them to entice buyers.

 

“Factual has always been our strong suit, although we really cater for all genres within our catalogue,” says Ludo Dufour, the company’s senior VP of international coproductions and sales, based in LA.

 

“We’ve just had a decade of the golden age of scripted when there were a lot of those scripted titles and all the major brands, even factual channels, were dipping their toes into the scripted world, hoping for the next big hit.”

 

Dufour
Ludo Dufour,
Blue Ant International

Dufour believes the tide has changed in the industry and high-value unscripted programming is likely to take scripted’s crown.

 

“We’re now entering the golden age of non-fiction and a lot of the clients we work with are realising that. For a much more affordable production budget, you can actually get an audience that is equivalent, if not bigger, than for a scripted piece. So, in terms of returns on investment, it’s a great play and we’re going to see more and more of these big unscripted projects,” he says.

 

Dufour explains that the pandemic has understandably changed the company’s approach to the market this year and has had to focus on the viability of the projects available.

 

“The pandemic has shifted things in that we’ve really had to not just look at potential acquisitions on the basis of the audience’s interest and what our clients are looking for, but also make sure that whatever we were investing in could be delivered.

 

The Royal Documentaries
The Royal Documentaries

“We really had to make sure that a large part of the conversation we were having with the producers we were considering to work with was based on, ‘When can this show be delivered? How are we going to work with all the restrictions that are in place at the moment? And can we also guarantee this show will be delivered on time?’”

 

As a result, Dufour says that Blue Ant has added content to its slate, such as packages on the British royal family and a series of UK biographies.

 

“We have focused on large volumes in order to make up for some of the productions that may not deliver, so we’ve looked around the market for larger libraries and long-running series that we could pick up,” he says.

 

Stormborn
Stormborn

“We have also worked with ITN Productions on a bevy of fresh content ranging from The Royal Documentaries – a series of one-off specials about the royal family – and are also launching four iconic British biographies. These are all programmes that are mostly based around archive material and historians and people who are close to the royal family, which can still be produced safely.”

 

Nevertheless, he points out that this is not necessarily a new strategy from Blue Ant, as the Canadian sales house has long valued its packages. He points out, however, that these types of deals and content tend to perform particularly well on AVoD platforms.

 

“Multi-season series are things that Blue Ant has had pretty much from day one. They are obviously sought after by the cable and satellite platforms, and now streamers as well, in order to really build audience engagement and loyalty. However, what we’re really noticing – which is also something that the pandemic has accelerated – is increased streaming on AVoD, which is fairly new.

 

After the Fires
After the Fires

“The AVoD appeal is also illustrated by the fact that a lot of the services have now been bought out by major groups, but as a distributor and working with these platforms most of those were volume deals. Only large volumes could work because it was still very hard to tell which show would be appealing and would do well. Very often we receive a royalty report and are quite surprised that the title, which may not necessarily work very well in distribution, is doing gangbusters on an AVoD platform.”

 

The French exec also points out that the popularity of natural history programming is not waning and Blue Ant is prepared to cater to such demand.

 

“Natural history is an area where we’re definitely seeing a lot of demand and more and more clients are getting into the genre. We’re in a lucky position in that Love Nature, one of our brands that focuses on the genre, has reached a level of premium production value, which is exactly what the market is looking for at the moment.”

 

Aging Well Suzuki Style
Aging Well Suzuki Style

In order to attract new viewers, Dufour says that Blue Ant has also sought celebrity-fronted titles such as A Wild Year on Earth, narrated by actress Laura Carmichael, and Wild Tales From the Farm, narrated by actor Hugh Bonneville.

 

“That makes it easier for audiences who are not necessarily interested in the genre to want to try it out. The talent brings them in but the quality and the premium production value of the production keeps them engaged,” Dufour says.

 

The Blue Ant team has also included programmes such as Aging Well Suzuki Style – described by Dufour as “wonderfully endearing” and “very tongue-in-cheek, which is refreshing for a science doc” – and The Weather Files: Total Impact on its summer slate.

 

When it comes to targeting markets around the world, Dufour believes Blue Ant’s Canadian origins provide unexpected benefits.

 

The Weather Files: Total Impact
The Weather Files: Total Impact

“There’s a real strength, culturally speaking, in having a lot of Canadian content within our catalogue. In the US, Canadian content feels like it’s being produced by their neighbours and therefore they get us, but it’s also a bridge back to Europe. It’s also very entertaining content, quite fast-paced – maybe faster-paced than Europe but not as fast-paced as the US. So it’s a nice middle ground between the two,” Dufour says.

 

He adds that the Blue Ant slate is tailored to cater to both traditional players and the global streamers.

 

“Revenue-wise, a lot of the key territories for us are still in North America and Western Europe. But we also work a lot with markets across the rest of the world. We try to make sure that the content that we acquire for distribution is globally appealing, that it can be easily translated, that it can be suitable for territories around the world, regardless of cultural differences or religions. But we also want to cater to the streamers with big, high-impact feature docs and also to public broadcasters around the world,” says Dufour.

 

Hotel Paranormal
Hotel Paranormal

Of the titles Blue Ant is presenting to buyers this year, Dufour’s personal pick is a series fronted by Dan Aykroyd.

 

Hotel Paranormal is really one of the premium titles this year. This is a 10-part series produced by Saloon Media, our Canadian studio, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with Dan Aykroyd, of Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers fame, to narrate the series. This is something that is important when we talk about talent – the authenticity of the host or the narrator is key, and Aykroyd loves the paranormal world.”

 

Dufour also has high expectations for the engineering series Legends vs Modern Icons, from German prodco Maximus Films.

 

“This is a more traditional but nonetheless very exciting science and technology series. It’s a series comparing the legendary buildings of the past – think of the Empire State Building – groundbreaking architectural marvels of the time, to some of the mega buildings of the present,” he explains.

 

The scripted production freeze has introduced many viewers to the world of high-end unscripted and Dufour and his team believe their offering is more than capable of providing viewers with their factual fix.