BIG CITIES, success story of an intercontinental coproduction

BIG CITIES is a worldwide TV and crossmedia collection of stories about innovative ways to improve living conditions in the growing number of megapolis around the world.

Initially conceived in Latin America by broadcasters’ association TAL (Television America Latina), this project was launched in spring 2015 with the aim to involve more than 40 broadcasters worlwide and produce at least 40×13’ and 8×52’ documentaries to be shared among the partners.

To be successful, it required a global network of cooperation for both the production stage and the distribution process between the world’s associations of public service broadcasters, including ABU (Asian Broadcasting Union), ASBU (Arab State Broadcasters Union), COPEAM (Permanent Conference of Audiovsiual Operators in the Mediterranean), EBU (European Broadcasting Union), ERNO (South-Eastern Europe), NORDVISION (Scandinavian Countries).

Malu Viana Batista, Founder and Executive Director of Television America Latina (TAL) and Markus Nikel, Senior Advisor International Projects and Coproductions (RAI) report back on the achievements and outcomes of this ambitious international project.



BIG CITIES has been able to bring together 28 partners from 25 countries [...] Together, this “worldwide public service network” was able to produce 34 x 13’ episodes with character driven stories on how to address the typical issues and how to increase quality of life and citizenship in the world’s BIG CITIES. 


Question: Two years after the BIG CITIES workshop at Asian Side of the Doc 2015 in Xiamen, how many networks and broadcasters around the globe are now involved in this intercontinental co-production? How many episodes have been produced, broadcasted and shared among partners so far?

It’s been a great public service challenge of really global outreach. We are grateful to all partners and supporters, and very proud to say that BIG CITIES has been able to bring together 28 partners from 25 countries:  Argentine, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China, Colombia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Japan, Jordan, Germany, France, Italy, Iran, Mexico, Malaysia, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, USA, Vietnam. In some countries we had more than one broadcaster, and some partners have produced more than one episode. Together, this “worldwide public service network” was able to produce 34 x 13’ episodes with character driven stories on how to address the typical issues and how to increase quality of life and citizenship in the world’s BIG CITIES.

Until January 2017, 27 episodes have been already delivered and exchanged, and the rest is expected soon. Some broadcasters have already started to broadcast, like RTHK Hong Kong, but most of the partners are currently preparing national language editions.  Everyone will follow their own schedule, and in general, flexibility is key factor for success, so as to allow everyone to act according their own needs and preferences, and keep the overall coordination effort as light as possible.

Question: How did you overcome funding difficulties to set up close cooperation the world’s most prominent public service broadcasters? Who have been your key partners in this successful enterprise?

A project like BIG CITIES indeed is possible only in strong network of supporters working together in an open minded and collaborative way.  Luckily, TAL, who is an association of broadcasters in Latin America, was lucky to find an open door at EBU in Europe and at ABU in the Asia-Pacific region who reached out about the project to their members. The EBU’s Science and Knowledge Group organized their own workshop in Berlin, ABU organized workshops at their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and at GZdoc International Documentary Festival in Guangzhou, and of course also the one held at Asian Side of the Doc 2015 in Xiamen. TAL broadcasters in Latin America had their workshop at DocMontevideo.
By the way, BIG CITIES had twice meeting at Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle, too, thank you so much for this!

Big Cities meeting at Sunny Side of the Doc 2016

Big Cities meeting at Sunny Side of the Doc 2016


In the collaborative spirit of global public service, these workshops and meetings were crucially important to build the editorial framework together, and to create a human and professional community were everyone felt “at home”. When held at a later project stage, our come-togethers were very useful to screen and analyze rough-cuts together.

In between, production was a decentralized business, in the responsibility of each partner. But at various stages of development and production, local producers were able to discuss their work with the Editorial Board.  So it was very important to have executive producers on the Board who could invest time and energy to do that job, and in that respect we are grateful to broadcasters RAI, Italy, in Europe (EP Europe Markus Nikel) and NHK, Japan, in Asia (EP Asia Asako Kume). It is impossible to credit all the names that gave us support, but there are a few names that we need to mention and to thank for their great job: Heloisa Jinzenji (TAL), Tatsuhiro Beniko (ABU), Hanizah Hamzah (ABU) and Pierre Duret (EBU), in memoriam.

BIG CITIES is based on a sharing principle: you produce at least one, and you get all. So, every body had to finance their own production, which of course had to meet some common standards fixed in a set of Editorial Guidelines. There was also a small participation fee to pay to cover TAL’s coordination costs, and the production of a graphical package for the series.

Question: Despite the financial and political pressure on public broadcasters worldwide, what role can national media organisations play to contribute to securing a democratic, informed and culturally diverse society ?

As we can see currently in a dramatic way, globalization is a highly complex process with uncertain outcomes, non-necessarily linear, but with a big risk of setbacks.
Media have a big role to play in helping to accompany and shape this Big_Cities_avatarprocess in a good way. So, the crisis of Public Media you are mentioning comes at the worst possible moment,
as Public Service Media today are probably more important and needed than ever in their history. And accompanying the globalization process means of course that Public Service Media work today has to have a strong international dimension. Cooperation is essential to not only talk about the others, but also talk to each other, to listen to each other, and to give voice to those who otherwise have no voice.

In this framework, BIG CITIES was very naturally conceived as a global project, because it is easy to see how all big cities share a couple of very severe and menacing issues, environmental, socio-economic, cultural problems without easy solutions:  so what is more natural than cooperate on a series addressing these issues and showcasing some good solutions. What works in Hong Kong, might inspire the people of Rio de Janeiro, and vice versa.  It’s about sharing the knowledge, and about inspiring each other. Isn’t that a good way to globalise the world?

This is the philosophy behind the project, and in this sense BIG CITIES wants an experiment in creating and strengthening such a global layer of Public Service Media work.  Globalising Public Service is not something that is meant to substitute traditional public service work on a local or national level. It’s a new way to bring local and global together, you may call it “glocal.” We already have a global economy, we must have a global community too.

Question: BIG CITIES aims at reaching at least 100 million viewers in 20+ countries with content made freely available on the web after TV broadcast.
Can you explain the multimedia approach to BIG CITIES distribution to attract new and younger audiences?

As already said, flexibility is crucial for the “glocal” approch to work in 25 countries on various continents: each partner has a maximum of freedom to use the material in the way that they know is best to reach their national audiences. And indeed, there are big differences in the profiles of the partners.  Some are mainstream factual channels reaching out to big audiences through linear broadcast, and of course online within the on-demand offer.

Others, like the German ARD-SWR  will use BIG CITIES within their educational offer to schools. Which in the German case means, to not only broadcast the films, but also to offer them as a learning material through a dedicated internet portal (, accompanied by special lesson plans and working materials for teachers to print out.  And we have also partners like the National Film Board in Canada who are not a broadcaster, and will offer BIG CITIES online, first of all.

Question: What’s the next step for the BIG CITIES series? Any ideas for a new international documentary co-production?

Yes, the show must go on of course, and we are currently discussing to find another universally interesting theme. It is crucial to keep the momentum, to take care of the friendships and professional relationships that have been created through BIG CITIES, and for sure it will be not so difficult to continue to build new projects within the good cooperation network that has been established now.  By the way, at this point it is important to say that BIG CITIES was itself build on a previous project COLOURS OF FOOTBALL, a global collection of films about the educational and social importance of soccer.  After football and urban issues, of course there are many more universal topics that can bring us together!