Disney U.K. Content Executives Reveal Commissioning Strategies: ‘Local Not Parochial’

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Two of Disney’s top U.K. content executives have revealed what they’re looking for while commissioning original content.

Addressing a session at the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival on Monday, Johanna Devereaux, director of scripted content for EMEA at The Walt Disney Company, said that for streamer Disney Plus, what they are looking for out of Europe and particularly from the U.K. are shows with a sense of scale and with real ambition. These have to be imbued with the Disney qualities of optimism, hope and joy and a sense of community, the executive said.

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“Anything that we do under the Disney banner really has to stand up against Marvel, and Lucas and all the amazing content,” Devereaux said. “It’s about finding a contemporary voice, a contemporary point of view, by diversifying our stories and by really inclusive storytelling.”

Disney also produces content under the Star label, and that platform’s commissions also require that scale, Devereaux said. “We are The Walt Disney Company: we don’t do small.”

“They have to speak really loudly — and what we mean by that is looking for local voices, local talent, local storytelling,” Devereaux said. “But local, not parochial. We’re looking for themes, ideas and voices which speak so loudly that it’ll feel universal, even if the point of view is very local.”

On the unscripted side, Sean Doyle, director of unscripted content for EMEA, said that for Disney Plus, the company is working with premium production partners to bring stories that resonate with a broad audience to life. For Star, the service is looking to find premium, evergreen stories from the worlds of sports, real life, music or entertainment that can sit on a streamer or channel for 10 years without getting dated.

Doyle, a former Channel 5 and Channel 4 commissioner, is also looking for human stories, what he describes as “unscripted thrillers’ where people find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. The executive is also looking for personal experiences that could resonate with audiences, like body image or societal and political issues.

“We’ve been able to articulate what we’re after in the unscripted space, because we’re so new,” said Doyle. “People are really engaging with the strategy.”

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