Viewpoint: Atlantic’s Anthony Geffen on making factual content multiplatform

Atlantic Productions’ CEO Anthony Geffen on taking factual content from giant screen to TV screen to tiny screen.

geffenUnlike other genres, very few factual television series are successfully grown to include different digital experiences. Kingdom of Plants with David Attenborough (below), our three-part television series for Sky 3D and Sky 1 which has won several awards and garnered a recent BAFTA nomination, is unusual in that it encompasses multiple platforms.

It has become an interactive paid-for app for iPad (which was voted by Apple as one of the top 20 apps for 2012), a Nintendo 3DS download, a traditional as well as digitally enhanced book with Harper Collins, an enhanced Blu-ray DVD and a 40 minute 3D giant screen film shortly to be released.

David Attenborough had always been interested in plants, and when Atlantic partnered with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew we were given unprecendented access for a year to a magnificent location which represented 85% of all species of plant.

David was particularly intrigued with the idea of taking 3D into the macro world of botany and capturing all of its beauty and drama. To do so we had to develop new technology and techniques with our specialist teams and post production house, Onsight, fashioning new 3D camera rigs and ways of capturing the tiniest details of plants and the animals that live around them.

It was during pre-production we realised the significant potential to use this footage and technology across a number of different digital platforms, so we decided to set up separate teams to look at ways of telling a variety of stories on very different size screens – which ranged from a 52 x 72 feet giant screen to a 9 inch iPad tablet, and a 4.9 inch screen for a games console.

As always, there was the issue of financing this new initiative in factual storytelling. Our head of commercial affairs, John Morris, had to initiate talks with a number of partners to find ways of covering the costs of exploiting these different platforms and determine individual revenue models.

In order for a project like this to be successful, there has to be extraordinarily detailed planning from an early stage, and each team began to think of unique ways to use the main 3D unit’s footage.

The app team realised that they could adapt the 3D time-lapse photography to give the iPad users a new way of viewing plants and looking at their behavior, which we dubbed ‘Plant Time’. It allows the user to interact with plants as they flower and grow, and to track their movements as it happens.


The Nintendo team realised that we would have to reframe a lot of the 3D footage, and needed the new material to get closer so that it would have an impact on the small screen.

For a giant screen the challenge was reshooting footage for a much larger end image, and a 40-minute film would need a very different narrative from a three-part series. Graphics had to be completely customised for each platform, as we wanted to give each one its own distinct feel, as well as recording a different narrative track from David for every format.

There was no margin for error when trying to accommodate shoots for all the platforms. One of Kew’s most dramatic species is the Titan Arum, the largest flower in the world, which blossoms just once every seven years. For this shoot there would be only one chance, so each unit had to minutely orchestrate their filming simultaneously, and luckily everything went according to plan.

A year after transmission on Sky the TV series is being shown around the world and the digital platforms are growing the Kingdom of Plants brand globally. Recently the series was transmitted on ABC in Australia and not only did it enjoy strong ratings, but it had a major impact on sales of the iPad app, Nintendo download and digital book.

There has also been a significant benefit for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, who have used the franchise to reach new constituencies, in terms of both audience profile and international reach, which will be bolstered by the release of the 40 minute giant screen film. But the Kingdom of Plants project has already proved how well a factual series can grow with the multi-platform approach.