When a TV network is airing content, such as a documentary that they did not produce themselves, what is the normal acquisition procedure?

For example, does the station pay to license the documentary, or does the documentarian pay the station to air it?

Are there people just looking for a platform to get their shows aired, and don't expect to pay or be paid?

I'm not looking for documentaries to air, nor am I a documentarian looking to air my content. I'm just wondering.

  • 1
    If you had to pay to air a documentary, how would documentarymakers make money?
    – JAD
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 7:30
  • Not sure. But a documentary on a well known network would seem to be a good platform to make yourself known. No? Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 8:34
  • Possibly. I'm not sure tbh. Using it as a platform to make yourself known sounds a lot like advertising btw. I'd expect one of the two to leak into the other, so either you'd end up with documentaries in commercial breaks or "featured content"-type documentaries.
    – JAD
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 8:37
  • 1
    I'd tend to say it's like any other products they air. They look for specific documentaries/subjects, or documentary makers pitch them to the TVs to get money to produce it.
    – Larme
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 9:04

1 Answer 1


Shows are, what I think is called in USA, Broadcasting syndication.
So you, a representative of TV station go to Auction/presentation and you buy some programs (like BBC Blue Planet), formats (like White guy in Africa is amazed by Africa) or opt for chipping in costs of production of documents to be made.

There can be many deals:

  • Producer create some High Quality programs and you buy them,
  • producer sell you some "hot" programs but force you to also buy some documentaries in package and show them during next 6 months so the creators will be paid royalties.
  • Producer have some documentaries (made for various reasons) and try to sell them to get money back and you buy them because showing documentaries earn you more time for commercials.

There are also stations that are buying programs made by stations of the same owner so the mothercompany make profit, the daughter companies show loss and people have something to watch.

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