Nat Geo & Discovery stress returnability as duo share factual strategies

Trafficked With Mariana Van Zeller

National Geographic is looking for investigative documentaries, while Discovery is on the hunt for celebrity scandal and “news-adjacent” topics, with the two factual giants sharing their content demands at MIPTV.

Speaking on a panel in Cannes this afternoon, Ben Noot, director of global acquisitions for National Geographic Channels, said that his department is on the lookout for long-running, returnable series across multiple genres.

“But mainly in an area that we call access and investigation, which is a very successful area for us,’ he shared. “We don’t do true crime, but what we can do is journalist-led investigative series. We have an original series called Trafficked With Mariana Van Zeller that’s doing well.”

Noot also highlighted upcoming series Drug Lords: The Takedown as the type of show that Nat Geo is seeking. Co-produced with Beyond in Australia, the series launches soon in the US and will be available globally, with Nat Geo paying 100% of the budget.

The exec further pointed to UFOs: Investigating The Unknown as another “recent acquisition success story”. The series, which launched in the US in January, has tapped into public concerns about the weather balloons over US airspace earlier this year.

“That’s a rare example for us of a show that’s probably not going to return – we do really want to have series that return – but that is brilliant subject matter for Nat Geo [audiences].”

Noot stressed the importance of returnable series for Nat Geo, describing them as “the bread and butter of the acquisitions department” and adding “we’re In the retention business and returnable series really help with great engagement.”

Framing Britney Spears


Also speaking on the panel was Isabelle Oliphant, senior acquisitions manager at Warner Bros Discovery, who similarly hammered home the interest in returnable series.

“Returning series that we can bank on that resonate with the audience,” are essential said Oliphant, who revealed that Discovery’s factual strategy falls into three main strands. These include “fallen icons”, around celebrity scandals, naming Leaving Neverland and Framing Britney as examples that have performed well for them.

She also highlighted “more topical, news adjacent titles” such as Navalny and War Zone: Bear Grylls Meets President Zelenskyy, both exploring the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It’s got to be something the news isn’t giving us – and they tend to work well across several regions”, said the exec.

Oliphant added that Discovery was also very interested in factual content around the British Royal Family, having previously picked up both ITV’s and CBS’ interviews with Prince Harry.

The third strand, meanwhile, includes “anniversaries” such as around the 9/11 terror attacks or the Chernobyl disaster. “They have to bring something new to the genre, something we haven’t seen before,” said Oliphant.

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