Financing key for factual

Julie Bristow looks for sponsorship, corporate partners and other ways to close the funding gap at CBC

It’s been nearly four years since Julie Bristow helped to launch the factual entertainment department at CBC. And, as executive director, she looks for programming that fits into a very unique niche: shows that fit into the network’s tradition of documentary and news, yet must appeal to a broad audience and provide entertainment value. And if they can somehow create a national conversation around a subject, all the better.

Take The Week the Women Went, produced by Vancouver-based Paperny Films, which saw the wives and mothers in small towns leave the menfolk to fend for themselves. ‘It was a format that we bought from the BBC, but I think why that tended to work for us was because it was a highly constructed documentary series and it was [about] real people in small-town Canada,’ says Bristow. ‘It started a discussion about gender politics in the country, which was really interesting. As funny as it was, people were always looking at it and saying, ‘I wonder how that plays out in my household?”

Julie Bristow

When the division started in May 2006, the team had specific timeslots to work with, but Bristow believes the public broadcaster is open to expanding the number of slots for factual because the genre has been doing so well, as with returning hits such as the business-minded Dragons’ Den and Battle of the Blades, a competition that pairs male hockey players with female figure skaters.

Blades ‘was a perfect pitch,’ says Bristow, who happens to be a former figure skater herself. Right now, while the CBC and Insight Productions are preoccupied with creating the second season, they are also trying to work out format sales into other countries.

The factual division looks for programs that reflect the country and its people’s stories. Bristow, for her part, wants to see new ways of telling these stories. Still, she says the biggest challenge for working in factual at the network is figuring out ‘what the financing structure looks like’ for the bigger-budget programs.

‘I think the most important criteria for us is how we can finance the show and how we can lower our licence fees,’ she says. ‘Can we bring a sponsor to the program?… Can we get a corporate partner and can some of this be underwritten? The challenge for factual is that these shows generally don’t qualify for funds like [the Canada Media Fund]. Although they qualify for tax cuts, they don’t qualify for some of the funds the dramatic programs do, so that makes it challenging.’

From Realscreen Online