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Off the Fence sells 300 hours of documentary into Iberian and Hispanic US markets. Deals closed with Discovery, AMC, RTVE, RTP, HITN TV and 2042 Media

The international distribution arm of factual content specialist Off The Fence (OTF) closed a string...

The international distribution arm of factual content specialist Off The Fence (OTF) closed a string of deals with broadcasters in Spain and Portugal, alongside volume deals with two of the largest Spanish-language channels in the US. The deals were brokered by OTF’s sales manager for Iberia, Latin America and Hispanic US, Emilia Gil Villegas.

Sales of OTF’s headline history/mystery strand, which launched internationally at MIPCOM last October, have been growing steadily in Spain. Warner Bros. Discovery in Spain has picked up two Big Media series: Hitler's Secret Missions (6 x 60 mins), which investigates six audacious operations personally commissioned by the German dictator as he sought to conquer Europe; and series one of Truthseekers (12 x 60 mins), co-produced with RMC Story, which uncovers the facts behind the myths and legends that have grown up around certain civilisations, events and phenomena, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, The Holy Grail and The Bermuda Triangle.

In addition, Warner Bros. Discovery has acquired the first season of Cursed Histories (6 x 60 mins), which is the first project to be launched internationally from OTF’s six-series factual partnership, announced last year, with Canada’s Super Channel and Go Button Media to be broadcast on Spanish FTA channel DMAX. The series explores puzzling and unnerving locations, icons and events, from the tomb of Tutankhamun through the Hope Diamond, that are believed to have triggered death, disaster and destruction.

The first series of Cursed Histories has also been acquired by AMC Networks International Southern Europe for Spain and Portugal along with two seasons of Truthseekers. Also headed for AMC’s Iberian channels is How to Lose a War (5 x 60 mins), produced by Wildbear Entertainment and Cut2Clock. The series opens in 1941, when the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan look set to conquer the world. So how, within two years, did Hitler and his allies go from victorious to vanquished?

Meanwhile, a second Wildbear/Cut2Clock title — Wild Battleground (4 x 60 mins) — has been sold to Spanish public broadcaster RTVE. The four-part documentary takes viewers into a war zone of a different sort: the animal kingdom, where battles break out over rivers, reefs and watering holes, as predators strive to dominate vital resources.

Over in Portugal, public broadcaster RTP has acquired multi-award-winning travel and adventure documentary Exposure (1 x 90 mins). In the Powderkeg Studios/Blumhouse production, a Muslim chaplain, a French biologist, a Qatari princess and eight other women from the Arab World attempt to ski across the fast-disappearing Arctic sea ice to become the last-ever team to reach climate-change ground zero: the North Pole.

Lastly, OTF has closed volume deals with HITN, the largest Spanish-language, not for profit pay TV network in the US; and 2042 Media, the Latino-owned independent company that owns and controls three pay-TV networks: xPlorer TV, Kids Street and Ingles Para Todos.

HITN has picked up 65 hours of documentary content, including both seasons of Meteorica Cine’s The Great Way (4 x 60 mins), which follows backpackers Alba and Raul along some of the world’s most spectacular hiking routes; and Pernel Media’s Butterflies: Superheroes of Nature (3 x 60 mins or 1 x 60 mins), which explores the ephemeral insects’ astonishing and largely unknown super-powers.

A second US volume deal sees some 195 hours of premium documentary head to 2042 Media’s doc-dedicated Family Central Explorer TV channel. Package highlights include WildEarth TV/otf studios’ A Game of Leopard Thrones (3 x 60 mins), filmed over 10 years in South Africa’s Djuma Private Game Reserve; China Review Studio/Colorful Nature Films’ March of the Elephants (1 x 60 mins), which chronicles the epic, 1,300-mile migration of a herd of elephants across China; and series three of NHNZ Worldwide’s Our Big Blue Backyard (6x 60 mins), which invites viewers into the stunning underwater world off the coast of New Zealand.

Stefanie Fischer, OTF’s managing director of sales, said: “Documentary has traditionally been a difficult sell into the Latin speaking markets, with their love of sport, celebrity and reality. But these sales indicate that today’s documentaries can rival any genre in terms of pace, narrative and drama. All these documentaries, whether focusing on Hitler’s failed plans for European domination or the butterfly’s conquest of the world, share a common quality: they are great stories told brilliantly by filmmakers at the top of their game.”

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During London Screenings week Stefanie Fischer speaks to TBI on the temperature of the global content industry and what's next for OTF in the next 12 months.

As buyers flock to the UK for London TV Screenings and BBC Studios Showcase this week, TBI talks to...

As buyers flock to the UK for London TV Screenings and BBC Studios Showcase this week, TBI talks to the bosses of more than 25 distribution companies to test the temperature of the global content industry and to find out how the next 12 months are shaping up.

Here, TBI talks to Off the Fence’s Stefanie Fischer, MD of distribution.

What three words would you use to describe the state of the TV/streaming industry as a whole right now?

Change, broken, relentless

What three words would you use to describe the state of the distribution sector right now?

Fascinating, fragile, feverish

With fewer shows being commissioned, how are you securing your pipeline?

Through OTF Studios, we are able to be very adaptive to new models that allow us to be involved in the pipeline from every aspect. We still of course wholly acquire programmes but increasingly it’s through partnerships with alternative funders such as foundations and impact campaigns all the way through to co-productions and deficit financing as a distributor.

What is the single biggest difference in the discussions you’re having with buyers today compared with 12 months ago?

They say less is more but there is strong evidence to suggest there’s not more budget, slots or staff…

How do you expect global streamer demands for rights to change in 2024 compared with 2023? 

I expect the trend of becoming a little more flexible about exclusivities to continue and the development and facilitation of more multi partnership projects which naturally opens up more funding routes and reach.

Where does opportunity lie for you in 2024?

Our fully integrated production and distribution model has allowed us to explore some brilliant and unique new avenues such as the Rising Phoenix Universe Paralympics partnership with the Emmy winning Harder Than You Think and an as yet to be revealed fully funded feature with access to latest research on addressing chronic pain. We’ve worked very hard to be incredibly flexible when it comes to business models and adapting to each individual project and its needs.

Tell us in no more than two sentences about the biggest problem facing the distribution industry and what needs to change so it can be overcome?

There are fewer buyers that are able to actually put their money where their mouth is, which is as frustrating for them as it is for us. When they can invest it’s often with smaller budgets whilst slots are simultaneously in decline. We also see a trend where buyers are vying for too many rights than they can pay for which leaves too much deficit to be found for the remaining rights. It’s an unworkable situation and change is clearly needed – buyers will all need to be more flexible with rights and open to collaborate – that’s a clear optimistic path.

It also evident that there is a global expansion of content consumption – audiovisual storytelling in general, funders and advertisers who want to be part of that journey. For classic tv distribution execs there has never been a more creative in facilitating the creative and commercial process for these partners to start building the foundations of a new way of making and selling content.

Tell us about your top show at London Screenings & why we should buy it?

Phenomena and the Paralympics based Rising Phoenix Universe are head-to-head for me in terms of innovation, quality and sheer entertainment value. They’re both incredible, the Paralympics content will sell itself, Phenomena needs more explanation: cutting-edge science that will bring health to the next level and a must watch for society as a whole.

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Harder Than You Think Appoints otf as distribution agent for ground breaking Rising Phoenix Paralympic content

Emmy award winning Harder Than You Think (HTYT) and Off The Fence (OTF) have announced today that...

Emmy award winning Harder Than You Think (HTYT) and Off The Fence (OTF) have announced today that OTF has been appointed to find partners for the next four projects from Harder Than You Think’s  ‘Rising Phoenix Universe’ - a catalogue of trailblazing content which charts the story of the Paralympic Games. OTF will also co-produce additional content commissioned outside of these core projects.

The ‘Rising Phoenix Universe’ was born out of the success of Harder Than You Think’s debut film Rising Phoenix, a four-time nominated and double Emmy winning feature documentary about the history of the Paralympic Movement which debuted in 2020 on Netflix and Bytedance.

Now, Harder Than You Think, founded by London 2012 CMO Greg Nugent and chaired by ex-BBC director general Tony Hall, is set to produce a collection of documentaries and docu series as part of the Rising Phoenix Universe which aims to connect global audiences to the Paralympics and in so doing create a shift in attitudes towards disability. Under the deal announced today, OTF will oversee the distribution strategy for all Rising Phoenix productions: Road To Tokyo (2022) and Paris 2024: A New Revolution w/t (2024). As part of the deal, OTF will act for Harder Than You Think on selling the rights to the 2025-2028 Road To LA which will chart the Milano Cortina 2026 Paralympic Winter Games and LA 2028 Paralympic Games.

The Productions:

Road to Tokyo - a 3 part docu series following 12 Paralympians preparing to compete in the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics through the Covid-19 pandemic. Co-directed by Mat Whitecross and pioneering deaf director Bim Ajadi, the series is also produced by Academy Award winning John Battsek at Ventureland and Exec Produced by Jack Thorne. One in four of those who worked on the production identify as disabled.

Paris 2024: A New Revolution (w/t) - a 90-minute feature in post production and slated for release this summer. Co-produced with Ventureland, investors include P&G Studios, in a partnership that dates back to the highly successful Equal Too podcast. Directed by Sheridan O’Donnell, the film aims to use the platform of the Paris 2024 Paralympics to ignite a global conversation on disability equality. Throughout the film, Sheridan will chronicle his own story as a low vision filmmaker as he grows to embrace life with a disability. Produced by Barnaby Spurrier (Rising Phoenix) and Exec Produced by Jim LeBrecht (Crip Camp), Harder Than You Think founder Greg Nugent and Ventureland’s John Battsek and Sarah Thompson. The production is currently on course to achieve its target of half of the production team to identify as disabled.

The Road To LA (w/t) production will continue beyond the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, with documentary content planned around the Milano Cortina 2026 Paralympic Winter Games, culminating in a unique offering around the LA 2028 Paralympic Games.

In 2022, Harder Than You Think was granted worldwide exclusive rights by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to tell the story of the Paralympics through to the LA 2028 Paralympic Games. This deal gives HTYT worldwide exclusive access to the IPC’s archive for every edition of the Winter and Summer Paralympic Games to the LA 2028 Paralympic Games. The deal gives Harder Than You Think global AVOD, SVOD and TVOD rights and unique access, including field of play and trackside filming rights.

Television audiences for the Paralympic Games are growing rapidly with its cumulative audience more than doubling in the last decade. The IPC projects a cumulative five billion-strong global audience for the LA 2028 Paralympic Games. According to the United Nations, more than 1 billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population, have a disability. However, they represent only a very small fraction of those working in the entertainment industry today. Harder Than You Think’s mission is to change this and increase diverse representation for people with disabilities in front of and behind the camera. The team has set a groundbreaking target for representation of disabled talent with a goal to have at least 50% of the production team identifying as disabled on all future productions.

Andrew Parsons, President of the IPC, said: “We want to open up the Paralympics to the world’s greatest storytellers to help bring the world’s greatest sporting and social stories to every corner of the globe.”

Bo Stehmeier, CEO of Off The Fence, said: “The IPC chose wisely when it granted Harder Than You Think unprecedented access to the Paralympics — and not just because Greg and his team produce glorious, award-winning work, but also because their commercial instincts are as sound as their creative talent. We’re honoured to have been entrusted with maximising the reach and impact of the Rising Phoenix. The power, glory and heroism of the Paralympics deserve to be seen by the widest possible global audience — and we’re only too pleased to help make that happen.”

Greg Nugent, Creator Of Rising Phoenix said: “We have something very special and unique in Rising Phoenix and its storyline. Our desire is to find a partner who shares our passion not only for extraordinary content but also more inclusive and representative production standards that can hopefully inspire others in the industry."’

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otf books first orders for Silverback - String of pre-release deals closed for award-winning feature documentary

Factual content specialist Off the Fence (otf) has announced the first sales for its latest...

Factual content specialist Off the Fence (otf) has announced the first sales for its latest feature-length documentary, Silverback, produced by OTF Studios in association with the BBC, France Televisions, Featuristic Films and The WNET Group.

Pre-premiere deals for the epic 90-minute film, which will debut on the BBC and France Televisions on the 7h and 8th of January respectively have been closed with US streamer Xumo and three European public broadcasters: Austria’s ORF, Sweden’s UR and Finland’s YLE.

Global interest in Silverback has been building since the Jackson Wild natural-history filmmaking festival in September, where it scooped three honours, including the Grand Teton Award for best-in-show documentary. It is the first major wildlife feature documentary to come out of OTF Studios since Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher, which won the 2021 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Silverback follows Congo-born wildlife cameraman Vianet Djenguet as he joins the effort to protect his country’s critically endangered eastern lowland gorillas. OTF’s small film crew was granted unprecedented access to the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to document the ‘habituation’ of a gorilla family. This challenging conservation process, which acclimatises gorillas to the presence of humans, is vital to eco-tourism, which generates the income needed to protect the world’s biggest primates from poaching, habitat encroachment and, ultimately, extinction.

Although primarily focused on the habituation of Mpungwe, a 250kg alpha-male gorilla, Silverback also documents Djenguet’s own family dynamic as he re-examines the role of the ‘silverback’ in his own life — his grandfather.

Andrew Zikking, managing director of Off The Fence Studios, said: ‘Silverback started as a film about trying to save a species from extinction, but the director’s obs-doc approach allowed it to evolve into many unexpected directions, including the impact of poverty, ideas around identity, family and masculinity. However, it is first and foremost a natural-history film documenting the dangerous and at times distressing habituation of Mpungwe and his family.”

Stefanie Fischer added: “We are proud to be recognised for our work in the natural history community at Jackson winning the Great Teton andthese pre-premiere sales indicate that Silverback will certainly win buyers and audiences around the world — and, in the process, help to raise awareness of the plight of these magnificent, critically endangered creatures.” 

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