Documentary Submission Guidelines

TVO Original Commissions

TVO commissions compelling social issue and current affairs documentaries and factual series that focus on contemporary social, political and cultural issues that are of direct relevance to Canadian audiences and promote citizen engagement.

Have an idea for a great documentary or series? Browse our guidelines below and make us a pitch.


Theme and treatment

Commissioned documentaries and series must explore social issues and current affairs themes of interest and relevance to Canadians. Stories must be contemporary and have active and unfolding storylines that engage unique and diverse points of view on issues of public concern.

Recent TVO Original documentary commissions include:

  • The Fruit Machine
  • The Heat: A Kitchen [R]evolution
  • Migrant Dreams
  • A Better Man
  • My Millennial Life
  • Sugar Coated

TVO Original documentary series include:

  • Political Blind Date
  • The Life-Sized City
  • Striking Balance
  • The Water Brothers


Who Should Pitch?

Documentary commissions are open to Canadian independent producers with a demonstrated ability to deliver broadcast-quality programs with high production values. Preference is given to producers from Ontario. Programs must qualify for certification as 100% Canadian productions or International Treaty Co-productions. Emerging filmmakers are strongly encouraged to partner with an experienced producer prior to approaching TVO.

Producers seeking Canadian Media Fund support are encouraged to confirm their production financing as early in the year as possible in order to ensure access to the Fund and meet license fee thresholds. Financing scenarios can include second-window licenses with other broadcasters, international pre-sales, public and private film funds, provincial and federal tax credits, distribution advances, arms-length private investments, and producer investments (evidence of interim financing is required if applicable).

TVO requires first-window and premiere rights for all TVO Original commissions. One-hour documentaries are preferred.  Acquisitions of completed programs can be considered, provided that first-window broadcast rights are available in Ontario.  Second window pre-buys and acquisitions are considered on a case-by-case basis.


Licensing for Commissions

Documentaries are licensed for a period of six years, with a 24-month first-window exclusive in Ontario, and have their North American premiere on TVO. VOD, streaming and mobile rights are licensed for a period of six years, with a 24-month first-window exclusive in Canada. License fees generally range from $40,000 to $75,000 per hour. TVO receives prominent full-screen credit in the program and on all printed materials.

Development funds of up to $10,000 may be advanced as a portion of the production license fee. Development licenses may be matched with CMF development financing, if available, at the discretion of the Commissioning Editor.

Selected digital media projects are licensed for a period of six years, with a 24-month exclusive in Canada. License fees range to a maximum of $10,000. TVO receives prominent credit on-screen and on all printed materials. Funding decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.


Proposals for Canadian Documentaries and Series

There are no proposal submission deadlines. Proposals of up to 10 pages in length may be submitted at any time. Submissions are reviewed and evaluated as they are received.

Documentary proposal submissions should include:

  • Brief project synopsis
  • Concise treatment or outline
  • Financing plan
  • Production budget top-sheet
  • Production schedule
  • CVs of key creative personnel
  • Samples of previous work that are relevant to the project being pitched may also be included

On a selected basis, TVO will consider digital media proposals that include a documentary component. Digital media proposals should include:

  • Brief project synopsis
  • Outline of the concept in relation to the broadcast component
  • Description of the user experience
  • Proposed technology and platform for the project
  • Proposed financing plan and budget top-sheet
  • CVs of key creative personnel
  • Samples of previous work that are relevant to the project being pitched may also be included

Documentary producers are required to partner with an established digital media producer if submitting a digital media proposal.

All proposal submissions are evaluated on the following criteria:

Originality and creativity of the treatment and/or subject. Relevance of the subject to audiences in Ontario and across Canada. Strength of the creative team and demonstrated ability to finance the production and deliver the project in a timely manner Meeting TVO's mandate and programming needs

Submissions for Canadian documentaries, series, and digital media projects may be sent to:

Attention: Jane Jankovic or Linda Fong

Email: jjankovic@tvo.org or lfong@tvo.org

Allow up to eight weeks for a response.


Short Form Documentary Digital Media and Podcasts

Social Short Video

Outside of documentary digital media projects, TVO also works with independent journalists to create social video (short, shareable content that focuses on explainers and strong, personalized points of view).

This type of content is not necessarily documentary work but there can be overlap.

The main priorities of social video include:

  • Strong point of view
  • Explaining complex topics in succinct manner
  • 4:45 minutes or under
  • Highly visual, strong purpose statement off the top
  • Highly shareable on social media (does it elicit emotion, surprise or practical usefulness?)

Examples include:

To pitch a story idea, you should briefly outline your idea, budget and timeline with a focus on what it is about your story idea that will engage the audience.

Send pitches by email to Hannah Sung hsung@tvo.org         


PODCASTS

TVO is growing our podcast content and will consider select proposals. We are looking for inspired concepts and engaging content that is smart, emotional and inclusive.

What is your podcast idea and how does it leverage the strengths of audio storytelling?

If your podcast already exists, what would you like to gain from a partnership with TVO?

To send a proposal, write a one-page outline that considers the following:

  • What is your idea? Give us a short, strong statement on what it’s all about
  • What is the format?
  • Is there a host? If yes, who?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How would your work experience or personal background support your podcast vision?
  • What is your timeline and budget? This doesn’t need to be very detailed but there should be some consideration of this in your proposal.

Examples include:

If you have further questions, contact Hannah Sung hsung@tvo.org


Acquisitions & Pre-Buys

Program Acquisition Policy

Besides producing and commissioning content, TVO acquires content in the areas of current affairs, drama, history, science, arts and other genres.  Acquired programs will generally contribute to TVO’s educational mandate. For example, drama may reflect issues of justice, politics, diversity, leadership, education, social mores, community development and history. From time to time, TVO may acquire programs that do not completely fulfill those mandates, but are of exceptional quality, not easily available, and likely to engage TVO’s audience. If there is sensitive content in any TVO program, TVO will provide viewer guidance messages. 

International Documentaries

TVO acquires and pre-buys one-hour and feature-length international documentaries that are thought provoking and inspiring explorations of social issues from around the world, created by the world's finest filmmakers. License fees, license period, number of plays, exclusivity, digital streaming and other terms vary. Works-in-progress and finished films are considered.

Past and current titles include:

  • White Right – Meeting the Enemy
  • Over The Limit
  • Conflict
  • The War Show
  • Sonita
  • Shingal
  • The World Before Her
  • Sisters in Law

Submission inquiries for International Documentaries may be sent to:

Attention: Naomi Boxer nboxer@tvo.org

Please include a short description of the film in the body of the email No large email attachments please.

Please allow up to eight weeks for a response. 


Science

TVO's prime-time science programming features hour-long Canadian and international documentaries that focus on cutting-edge scientific and technological discoveries which explore all facets of the natural and scientific world.

In wide-ranging series such as "How to Build a Planet," "Wonders of Life," "How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth" and "Tipping Points," TVO explores the scientific and environmental issues that have an impact on Canadian lives.

Though primarily acquisitions-based, a limited number of Canadian and international pre-buys may be funded each year.

Submissions for Science Documentaries may be sent to:

Attention: Christine Lee or Naomi Boxer

Email: clee@tvo.org or nboxer@tvo.org

Allow up to eight weeks for a response.


History

TVO's History programming presents hour-long documentaries that examine events of national and international historical significance for both prime-time and family audiences.

From acclaimed Canadian series such as "For King and Country" and "Greatest Tank Battles," to international co-productions such as "Apocalypse World War I," to the award-winning archaeological series "Time Team," TVO seeks out the best in probing and provocative history programming from around the globe.

While acquisitions dominate the strand, a limited number of Canadian and international pre-buys may be funded each year.

Submissions for History Documentaries may be sent to:

Attention: Christine Lee

Email: clee@tvo.org

Allow up to eight weeks for a response.


Arts

TVO acquires arts documentaries that explore the life, work, and creative process of influential painters, photographers, architects, writers, musicians and filmmakers considered eminent in their in their respective fields. This programming is both Canadian and international in scope. License fees, license period, number of plays, exclusivity, digital media streaming and other terms vary. Hour-long and feature-length works-in-progress and finished films considered.

Past and current titles include:

  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Strange and Familiar- Architecture on Fogo Island
  • Raghu Rai – An Unframed Portrait
  • Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star
  • Strike a Pose
  • Peggy Guggenheim – Art Addict

Submission inquiries for arts documentaries may be sent to:

Naomi Boxer: nboxer@tvo.org 

Please include a short description of the film in the body of the email.  No large email attachments please.

Please allow up to eight weeks for a response. 


TVOs Documentary Policies and Standards

Independent producers must adhere to the following standards:

  • Political activity. TVO maintains a policy of political neutrality which is essential to our work. During the time documentary producers are working on a commission from TVO, they should refrain from political activity. They should not seek or hold public office of any kind nor have any overt involvement with political parties.
  • Verification. Material presented as factual must be verified by knowledgeable sources. Plagiarism and knowingly presenting false material is not acceptable.
  • Producers and others working on a TVO documentary must not accept any benefits, rewards, or payments from any person or organization that is connected with the documentary. They must not obtain information through promises, threats, harassment or deception. They must maintain civil standards of behavior during production, especially in public areas.
  • Documentaries as a form represent the intersection of art and journalism - what John Grierson called "the creative treatment of actuality." As such, TVO accepts that controversial subject matter may be presented in bold and unconventional ways. However, each documentary must make its case for its point of view. In this respect, TVO will demand extensive research and, if it deems necessary, acknowledgement of contrary views. TVO may reject a documentary if these demands are not fulfilled. As part of its mandate to provide in-depth current affairs, TVO will provide space on its broadcast or digital platforms for context and debate in the case of documentaries that raise troubling and controversial questions.
  • TVO encourages innovation and may accept the use of genres such as drama, comedy, animation, artistic manipulation of images and sound, and other innovative techniques. But technique is not a substitute for substance and transparency is key: if artifice is used, it must be eventually clear to the reasonable viewer. The results can never mislead or deceive.
  • TVO may accept strong content that might be offensive to some viewers if its exclusion will distort reality or impair quality.
  • By accepting a TVO commission, producers acknowledge their ethical responsibilities to their subjects and viewers. This is of particular importance in the case of documentaries that illuminate the lives of the marginal and powerless. In such cases, these general principles apply:
    • Do no harm and protect the vulnerable.
    • Acknowledge the extent of decision-making that is shared with the subject(s).
    • Refrain from paying subjects for their participation.
    • Refrain from misrepresenting identity or intent, except in rare cases where the public interest justifies it, or personal safety requires it.