BBC Eyes More ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me’-Style Feature Docs To Compete With Global SVODs


The BBC is looking to commission more Whitney: Can I Be Me-style feature documentaries as it looks to compete against global digital giants such as Netflix and Amazon.

This comes as the British public broadcaster lines up a feature doc about boyband Bros, which is premiering at next month’s London Film Festival.

Alison Kirkham, Controller of Factual Commissioning at the BBC, urged producers to bring it more large-scale feature docs in a webinar organized by British producers’ association Pact.

“We did Whitney [Can I Be Me] and in fact that’s something we’d like to do more of,” she said. “I’d like to be pitched more feature docs, in truth, we’re not pitched enough of them. The bar is really high but they deliver a sense of event.”

Whitney: Can I Be Me, directed by Kurt & Courtney director Nick Broomfield, was produced for BBC Two and Showtime and aired in September 2017. It told the story of the pop star using archive footage from Houston’s 1999 World Tour as well as interviews with friends and family. It also looked at her relationship with Robyn Crawford and her drug use.

Next up in a similar space is Bros doc After The Screaming Stops. The film, which features never before seen footage of the brothers reuniting for the first time before their sell out concert at Wembley last year, is produced by James Corden’s I Am Bolt producer Fulwell 73.

It will air on BBC Four later this year after its European debut at the LLF on October 17. The film looks at the rise and fall of Bros and explores how Matt and Luke Goss are reunited after 28 years, having hardly spoken during this time.

Kirkham said projects with scale, such as these as well as Blue Planet and Planet Earth, can help linear broadcasters such as the BBC compete with the global SVODs.

“The industry is definitely changing but we’ve shown that we can still bring big and returning audiences to linear programming when we get it right,” she said.

The former I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here producer added that it was also looking for “event” programming that it can strip across the week, highlighting Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation, the three-part doc about the 1993 murder of Londoner Stephen Lawrence that was stripped across BBC One for three nights.

“There are a number of ways that linear can respond to the really competitive landscape, she said. “Delivering something as a strip or communicating a sense of scale or event is one way of doing it. That charges suppliers with bringing us really ambitious programming. We want that sense of scale.”

Elsewhere, she highlighted forthcoming series Icons: The Story Of The 20th Century (w/t), which is a global history series that will tell the story of the 20th Century through the people who made it. The eight-part series, which will air on BBC Two, is produced by David Glover and Mark Raphael’s 72 Films.

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