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Old August 5th, 2008, 12:35 AM   #1
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Selling price of a documentary...

Does anyone know what prices Discovery Channel, National Geographic, PBS, etc. pay to buy a documentary?
I know it depends on subject matter, quality of the doc, maybe length, etc. but I'm just interested in some ballpark figures.
Even if it are rough numbers, I would like to get some ideas, just to know in how far it's possible to recoup the costs.

Mathieu Ghekiere is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 5th, 2008, 04:02 AM   #2
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Im also very interested in documentary pricing.

Offcourse its varies alot, but some working figures would be great!
Vegard Paulsen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 5th, 2008, 06:43 AM   #3
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What you will tend to find is that major networks like Discovery etc commission documentaries, and very rarely buy them off the shelf. Smaller networks are likely to purchase documentaries for their territory - and you'll likely find that in terms of recouping costs you are looking much more at the long tail side of things. (Lots of small purchases in many territories over an extended period of time eventually leading to a return. I.e it may take many years in the market place, with your documentary and or it's footage being sold to various small markets be they larger regions or smaller countries, potentially as part of broadcast packages put together by third party distributors, before you make a return.)

An independent, non commissioned documentary that is looking to make a return should either have a highly saleable subject matter, or serious likelihood for major awards.

Smaller, local documentaries are highly unlikely to recoup costs unless they are done for very cheap, or have a niche audience who can create a long tail on an independent distribution format (such as selling DVD's out of the back of the car or even four walling a theatres and community halls etc without a distributor.). Again in this fashion the documentary could recoup funds over time.

Asking the value of a documentary to the marketplace is much like asking the length of a piece of string.

Best case scenario it's a ground breaking documentary that has a serious shot at a theatrical run for some reason, and is a high oscar hopeful, and is in the English language or can be adapted to English language (e.g March of the Penguins) and some serious distributors start a bidding war for theatrical and then it also goes on to have massive legs in DVD etc. In this example the initial sale figure could feasibly be very high, in the six to seven figure range plus royalties etc. Film had a highish production budget, but theatrical and presales ensures it breaks even and it makes a killing on DVD and other ancillary rights sales.

Mid range but positive example, a few smaller stations pay something in the sort of four figure range to screen the film, it goes into a few markets and over the years eventually it comes close but never quite breaks even, but the contacts and distributors it puts you in touch with allow you to make another film, gets further funding, and maybe that one makes a little bit of cash while the cash flow on the long tail from your first film helps keep your office running etc (the first documentary being most a personal investment in the return is personal development, instead of cash, but there is the opportunity for it to come close to even over time.)

Worst case scenario - you dump a whole lot of money into a doco that never really gels, can't be completed due to lack of funds,let alone find a distributor,and even if you COULD find the money to complete the film a distributor would just not be interested.

My advice - find a local network/distributor BEFORE you start filming/spending money and get them to agree to screen/purchase the doco in advance, for a small local territory, with some sort of proviso that allows you back out of it if you think that you might have a shot of getting into major festivals and getting a theatrical worldwide premiere at a major.

If you can do this then you are much more likely to avoid the worst case scenario, but covering yourself in contract form somehow just in the unlikely even that the best case scenario rises.
Craig Parkes is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 5th, 2008, 07:56 AM   #4
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In Europe quite a few programmes are co-productions commissioned by broadcasters in different countries eg BBC with Discovery or ZDF. These deals are put together before the programmes are made and are often put together by the production company.

However, you'd be better going to an established independent producer and getting in them if you've no track record. Although, they'd want to know that you're up to the job, so you'll need to have a documentary or short to demonstrate your talent (or be a relative).
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