As National Geographic’s MIPCOM keynote prepares to wow the Croisette with the renowned TV brand’s new ventures into original fiction programming, Christian Drobnyk, recently joined National Geographic Channels as Executive Vice President, Programming Strategy and Acquisitions, tells MIPBlog this strategy will be reflected and supported by Nat Geo’s buying approach.
Drobnyk, recently joined Nat Geo from A+E Networks, oversees programme scheduling strategy, planning and acquisitions across the National Geographic portfolio, which includes National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo Mundo.
MIPBlog: What is new about National Geographic Channels’ acquisitions strategy?
Christian Drobnyk: We’re acquiring more aggressively than usual. In a nutshell, the strategy is ‘fewer, bigger better.’. Lots of people talk about doing that, but few people actually do it, as it’s hard to make it work. It’s underpinning the larger industry trend of establishing a big brand positioning, but also serving a market that’s underserved in premium content. So we’re having to do fewer big deals with the content we’ve got.
That includes some drama and fiction. We’ve embarked on that journey with fictions like Genius and The Long Road Home, both of which are based on true stories. So that fits firmly with what Nat Geo means as a brand to consumers; we’re just telling those stories in different ways now. It’s a huge shift, but it’s more to do with taking a premium strategy to market, for drama but also for huge non-fiction mini series, or hybrid shows like Mars.
Non-fiction remains important, of course: we just premiered The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman, the second season of a series that started with The Story of God; and One Strange Rock, a non-fiction event series about the Earth (notably produced by Darren Aronofsky; more info here).
> What is the underlying industry trend here?
The broader market trend is: is your brand meaningful to consumers? Because if not, some of that reduction in the bundling is not going to be kind to you. We know Nat Geo is a huge brand throughout the world, so our goal is to serve what people expect from us, which is incredibly high quality storytelling across all types of content, be it adventure, nature, or the many other genres we specialise in.
> How does the new acquisition strategy fit with Nat Geo’s new focus on fiction?
We’re now looking to the acquisition side to reinforce that new fiction strategy. When you pursue a huge premium strategy, with fewer premiere hours and running a network, you need to make sure you’re running a linear service outside of commissioning. For example, FX has a movie (acquisition) strategy that supports its own original series).
So we’re looking at non-fiction acquisitions, be they from US, or globally. What we’re looking for is character-driven returnable series (franchises that do or look like they could have multiple seasons), whilst at the same time cherry-picking for one-off event or mini-series that can help us support this ‘fewer, bigger better.’ strategy. Content that we’d make ourselves on the originals side, that we can pick up on the acquisitions side. For example, we just put out “Jane”, original feature doc about Jane Goodall, and are looking for content that could accompany/support that. So we’re looking to mirror (National Geographic Global Networks CEO & MIPCOM keynote) Courtney Monroe’s originals strategy on the acquisitions side. But this is a shift for Nat Geo too, as we’ve largely commissioned before. Now we’re looking to the acquisition market to support our strategy.
> Can you give one example of a show you’d like to buy?
I would love to have been able to acquire Parts Unknown by Anthony Bourdain (now a CNN programme): the sort of character-driven story that gives you a front-row seat in worlds you don’t know. It’s incredibly returnable. We’ll be announcing a major new acquisition at MIPCOM. Watch this space!