HBO Tops NPACT Survey of Where Unscripted Producers Want to Work

Michael Schneider

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Ask a nonfiction producer where they’d like their shows to land, and chances are HBO is at the top of the list. According to a new survey conducted by NPACT, the trade association for nonfiction production companies in the U.S., HBO was cited as the best network to deal with overall, as well as their favorite place to pitch, their favorite business affairs team, and the outlet with the clearest brand clarity and content needs.

HBO’s nonfiction output, of course, mostly consists of high-caliber documentary films and series, as well as award-winning talk shows — so perhaps it’s no surprise the channel would top NPACT’s list. But it’s also a validation for the team led by documentary/family programming executive vice presidents Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, who took over the department in 2017. They had tremendous shoes to fill, replacing legendary HBO Documentary president Shiela Nevins, who left HBO after 38 years (and later moved to MTV).

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NPACT asked producers of unscripted, documentary and reality series from 51 production categories to rate 59 networks in 11 different categories: best to deal with/most difficult; pitching; program development; network brand/programming needs; business affairs; production oversight/notes; production management; financial process; scheduling/promotional support; most improved; and most respected. The timing of the survey comes as much of the unscripted TV world prepares to meet in New Orleans for this week’s Realscreen Summit.

Besides HBO, other networks earning high marks as “best to deal with” included Sundance, A&E, TBS/TNT, Nat Geo Wild, History, Nat Geo, Bravo, Oxygen and CNN. On the flip side, TV One, MTV, WE TV, VH1, You Tube Originals, Amazon, Facebook, Food Network, Motor Trend and Discovery Network were labeled “most difficult.”

NatGeo Wild landed in the top 10 across more categories than any other network, while Netflix was named as No. 1 “most improved” last year, as well as the “most respected” network/platform.

Other networks earning high marks included USA, which was tops in program development; Facebook, which was No. 1 in its editorial oversight/notes process; Investigation Discovery as No. 1 in production management; Oxygen as No. 1 in finance; and Bravo as the leader in scheduling and promotional support.

Netflix’s status as “most improved” came especially in business affairs, editorial oversight/notes and finance, where respondents said the streamer had grown the most in those categories. Travel Channel and National Geographic were right behind Netflix as most improved, while A&E and ID were next in line after Netflix for “most respected.”

This is the latest edition of the NPACT industry survey, which was launched by predecessor Pact US in 2017, when it conducted a joint study with Variety.

“The NPACT survey process over the last four years has gathered and communicated key intel and vital information from the production community, and it’s gratifying to see that resulting in improved relationships between producers and content buyers,” said NPACT interim general manager Michelle Van Kempen. “With this year’s addition of “most improved” data across all categories, we’re also pleased that NPACT can provide a forum for those positive changes to be publicly recognized and acknowledged.”

See the entire survey results here, while below are a few of the key results:

[Pictured: HBO’s “McMillions.”]

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