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Nat Geo TV Goes Shopping for Movies, Docu Series at NATPE

National Geographic Channels is heading to NATPE with a shopping list.

The cable group is sending a small team to Miami this week for the Jan. 16-18 National Association of Television Program Executives conference in a search for movies and docu-series content. The goal is to find films based on true stories and documentary-style content that are tonally similar to Nat Geo’s original programming efforts.

“We’re really looking to acquisitions to help us amplify our bigger budget marquee originals strategy,” said  Christian Drobnyk, exec VP of program strategy and acquisitions for Nat Geo Channels.

Drobnyk pointed as an example to the marathon of war-themed movies that Nat Geo ran in early November around the launch of its original limited series “The Long Road Home,” about the ripple effects of an attack in Iraq on a small Army unit. Promoting “Long Road Home” in airings of movies that included “The Hurt Locker,” “Lone Survivor,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” helped introduce the original series to viewers who were already interested in military-themed titles.

Drobnyk also cited Nat Geo’s recent acquisition of rerun rights to NBC’s “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” a show that dovetails nicely with the cabler’s natural history programming.

Nat Geo has honed its original programming focus to coalesce around a handful of big-ticket event projects per year. Upcoming priorities include the second installment of the “Genius” scripted bio-series franchise, this time examining the life of Pablo Picasso, and “One Strange Rock,” the docu-series about diversity and wonder of life on Earth from filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and Will Smith.

“We have a much more ambitious original strategy and in some cases this requires bringing in a different audience from the non-fiction programming that we are known for. Reaching those audiences are not easy. We have limited marketing dollars. Theatrical (films) can play a role in doing that and they can create some ratings ballast in the schedule when we don’t have high-profile original content.”

Drobnyk, who joined Nat Geo last September from A+E Networks, said they are hoping to established a regular “based on a true story” movie night once they have enough licensing deals completed to sustain a weekly schedule.

Nat Geo has also become more proactive in shopping on the film festival circuit and partnering with filmmakers at the early stages of narrative and docu projects that could be a fit with the Nat Geo brand. But those are bigger bets that require more risk.

“The nice part of an acquisitions strategy is that you have can buy incredibly high-end content on the rental model,” he said. “That means you’re not filling the gaps in your schedule with older or less high-quality shows.”

(Pictured: “The Long Road Home”)

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