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How to make a world renowned BBC wildlife series and branch AGM

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Martin Gosden, the branch Chairman, conducted a brisk AGM, introduced the committee, got agreement of the 2016 AGM minutes, reviewed the past year and looked forward to the next. Gary Mainwaring, the branch Treasurer, discussed the financial statement. Following election of the committee, the Chairman introduced our speakers for tonight, Oli Thompson, Head of Business at the BBC Natural History Unit, (NHU), and Katie Hall, Producer for BBC NHU’s Blue Planet II.

On 16 May 2017 in Bristol, Oliver Thompson introduced the work of the BBC NHU, which is wholly owned by the BBC, but which now has the financial freedoms to compete for work from other customers. As well as the NHU, BBC Studios Bristol is responsible for many other series including, amongst others, Antiques Road Show, DIY SOS, Spring Watch and Country file.

Production management is about delivering a series within an agreed budget, working out how to make it, managing risk and dealing with the unexpected: how do you ship articulated trucks with tonnes of equipment to Alaska, or deal with the special permits needed for access to sensitive areas in the world, and very different local cultures. The language used is not one of project management, but that is precisely what is involved. The BBC have their own methodology, which places managing risk at the top of the agenda. The people at the NHU have a unique culture, with many deep specialists with PhD’s, whose passion and expertise is essential in shaping series. The production managers alongside their editorial counterparts pull these specialists together into a high performing team.

Key to the business success of the BBC NHU are the ‘super landmark’ series, such as Planet Earth I and II, Frozen Plant, Africa and Blue Planet. These series are sold worldwide and can create revenue streams for many years after first transmission. They are critical for the BBC’s reputation as a public broadcaster with the NHU series being particular audience favourites which generates the important ‘worth the licence fee’ feedback. These top quality, world renowned series attract the best people from around the globe to work in Bristol. The NHU is still the world’s largest producer of high end natural history programming with over 60 years’ experience, and anchors a thriving independent production sector in Bristol.

Katie gave an overview of the planning required to manage and deliver Blue Planet II. The 4 year process starts with development, then moves to commissioning, filming and then delivery. Blue Planet I was released 17 years ago and the challenge is to engage a new audience with new science and new discoveries. There is a lot of risk and complexity associated with filming new stories and using highly advanced and cutting edge equipment.

The BBC launch of the series is Autumn 2017 with a Giant Screen/3D release in Summer 2018.

Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of some of the slides, they cannot be made available.

Martin Gosden
SWWE branch Chairman





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