ITV is making a major push into the natural history genre – an area that has long been dominated by rival BBC and more recently Netflix and Apple.
The broadcaster recently commissioned Hostile Planet producer Plimsoll Productions to produce landmark series A Year On Planet Earth (w/t) – its first major wildlife commission in 20 years – and now the company’s international sales arm is also doubling down on the genre.
ITV Studios Global Entertainment is launching a raft of wildlife titles at next week’s Mipcom including David Attenborough-narrated India’s Wild Karnataka, Wild Tokyo and Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure and EVP Global Content Julie Meldal-Johnsen tells Deadline that it wants to further increase this focus.
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She said that the distributor wanted to create a factual slate that could sit alongside its high-end drama slate, that has invested in series including BBC drama Noughts & Crosses, Bodyguard and Snowpiercer. “We’ve put some more focus and some more money behind the high-end factual shows,” she said. There definitely seems to be a renewed interest in the natural history genre globally, helped by new technology, which means producers can make these programs in new ways. We’ve heard about the golden age of drama for so long, it feels like it’s natural history’s turn right now.”
India’s Wild Karnataka is its big hope for Mipcom; narrated by Planet Earth and Blue Planet’s Sir David Attenborough, the one-off blue-chip doc explores the Indian state, which is one of the richest wild places on Earth. It occupies five per cent of the country’s landmass, yet it is home to a quarter of India’s animal species, including more tigers and elephants than anywhere else on the planet. Camera teams spent three years here, filming in the region’s mountains, deserts, jungles, and oceans – and gained access to some of India’s most famous national parks.
Produced by Indian filmmakers Amoghavarsha J S and Kalyan Varma in collaboration with River Monsters producer Icon Films and Mudskipper, it launched in India as a feature film with ITVSGE taking global TV rights.
The company is also shopping Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure, a wildlife travel doc that sees the British national treasure go on an adventure to the rainforest. Produced by Atlantic Productions, the company behind David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reefs, for ITV, the series sees the James Bond and Shakespeare in Love star follow orangutans sun bears, elephants and crocodiles as well as flying creatures like the unusual gliding mammal and the Kubong, that can fly for over 100 metres.
Elsewhere on its slate are Wild Tokyo, which explores wildlife that thrives alongside the city’s human residents, and Anatomy of a Wild Fire, which looks at how these increasingly frequent raging infernos begin and what those on the frontline of the fight can do to stop them.
Meldal-Johnsen said that its push into natural history came after it started working on Magical Land Of Oz (left), a three-part series for ABC Australia, BBC and PBS, which follows animals in Australia including acrobatic crocodiles, tree climbing birds, fish that cross roads and spiders who dance like peacocks. The series, which was produced by ITV-owned Oxford Scientific Films in association with Northern Pictures Production, has been sold into 100 territories.
She added that in addition to working with ITV-owned producers, which also include the likes of The Garden, it is looking to partner with more third-party producers. She said that many of the top names in the natural history space are independent, unlike in many other genres, and happy to work with a variety of partners to fund their projects. “These companies are busy; they are working for Netflix and Apple, and are making shows that are up there with the top dramas, north of £2M per hour.”
She admits that there is tough competition – from the likes of the BBC and its international arm, which has a relationship with BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, widely considered the top producer in this field, as well as other players. But she added that not many companies can put the funding in as these projects become more and more expensive. “When it gets to that scale, a lot of distributors can’t play in that sandbox quite yet and [we can]. You have to take a deep breathe and take a risk. We’ve got our fingers in a few pies, we’ve been working hard with producers to see what we can do,” she added.