Kate Ward joined BBC Studios, the corporation’s commercial arm, last year to oversee its factual portfolio. Ward moved over from Vice Studios, where she was global president, and has jumped into the challenge of stewarding one of the world’s most powerful factual brands, which includes 66-year-old leader in the space the BBC’s Natural History Unit (NHU).
Ahead of Ward’s trip to Mipcom, she sat down with Variety to discuss the changes she’s implemented over the past year and what she’s looking forward to spotlighting in Cannes.
How would you describe your remit as head of BBC Studios’ factual portfolio?
I’m in the really, really lucky position that BBC Studios Factual is one of the pillars of our production business. We are working across an incredible range from natural history, specialist factual, docs, popular factual and formats, so we’re really reaching across the whole of that factual genre. We’ve been born from an incredible heritage and legacy — the NHU was founded in 1957 — and maintains its market-leading position as the home of both breath-taking quality, purpose and innovation. So I’m really sitting across the whole of the factual genre and plotting a course to continue as the number one producer and distributor in the genre globally.
You recently created a new production unit to oversee specialist factual productions, splitting it away from the docs unit. What prompted you to make that change?
It was to leverage that core strength that specialist factual have in history, music, arts, culture, and that layered innovative storytelling that really defines but also evolves the genre of specialist factual production. I look at shows that they’ve made previously — such as “Inside My Autistic Mind,” which was a fantastic BBC show fronted by Chris Packham that really sought to understand the autistic experience, but also looking forward they’re producing “Uncanny,” which is an upcoming series on the BBC based on the amazing Danny Robins podcast – and we felt that in creating a new unit that leverages that incredible expertise with distinct leadership and a distinct editorial purpose they were set to scale even greater heights. On the other side, we have the docs unit, which previously umbrellaed both of those genres, that has an incredible reputation both for massive institutional access like the Met Police (we did “Grenfell”) but also really exciting, distinctive, factual formats.
Last year Voltage TV became the first production company to be fully acquired by BBC Studios’ factual arm. Why were they a good fit?
They bring something that that we didn’t have. They really have an expertise in streamer doc boxsets — they’ve launched “The Fake Sheikh” [on Amazon Prime Video] and have an upcoming Gary Glitter doc with Netflix [“Hunting Gary Glitter”]. They have a fantastic popular sensibility and then they also have a real eye for formats that are audacious. This is the team that brought you “The Tribe Next Door” but most recently “Tempting Fortune” on Channel Four, which is set to be a really significant format at Mipcom.
Are you actively looking to acquire or invest in more companies at the moment?
We are really optimistic and confident about the factual portfolio and we’re very strategic about how we approach those investments and ensuring that they’re part of serving our wider strategy. But absolutely, we are looking at growing the portfolio in the future.
What are your priorities for Mipcom?
The big titles that we’re excited about are “Mammals,” coming from the Natural History Unit, “Disco Inferno” from specialist factual productions and “Earth.” “Tempting Fortune” is set to be one of the talking points of the Croisette as it begins its journey as an international format. It speaks to the range of shows that we have.
David Attenborough, who has just launched his latest project, “Planet Earth III,” is indelibly linked with the NHU. Do you have more plans to work with him?
We couldn’t be more excited about the global launch of “Planet Earth III.” I think it’s a powerful reminder of the legacy and the innovation and the purpose that exists at the heart of the NHU of which David Attenborough is irreplaceable in that. You’ll have to ask him [about his next project] but we’re really, really excited to have him with us on “Planet Earth III.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.