Unscripted: Digital Originals

The best first step is to download the CBC Gem app. Familiarize yourself with how the service works and how it’s organized. In addition to live streams from across the country, all CBC television series are available on Gem, plus international titles that we import for Canadians to enjoy. We also commission original titles specifically for this platform — that’s what this page is about! We greenlight around three or four unscripted CBC Gem series each year, and competition is very high. Right now, we’re seeing success with:

You Can't Ask That
Farm Crime

We want noisy, engaging shows that will stand out in a crowded market, delight audiences and grab the attention of other media. This page will outline what we’re looking for, give you tips on how to format and submit your pitch, and explain how the unscripted development team evaluates pitches.

Currently, we’re looking for shows that will premiere after April 2021. It may feel far away, but we’re actively developing series now for that time frame.

In such a crowded market, you can’t count on audiences making the effort to discover your show. We need great concepts that an audience can immediately grasp and that will build buzz when the show launches. Is the idea for the show creative and original enough to spark curiosity? Is it the sort of show that will become someone’s next binge? How is the talent unique and compelling? Does the show reflect the diversity of modern Canada? Is it something people haven’t seen before and won’t find on other platforms?

The kinds of series CBC is looking for

Genre and format
We’re not limiting our search to any specific genre. It could be lifestyle, documentary, true crime or something else entirely, but it should be set in Canada and reflect modern Canadian life.

Our most successful series have dealt with authentic perspectives and details of underexplored worlds and voices. There are diverse audiences out there with discriminating tastes and attitudes. We’re looking for bold, innovative and risk-taking shows to address their interests. We gravitate toward shows focused on niche topics that appeal to a specific, defined audience.

We’re not commissioning straight profiles or one-offs. Instead, we’re privileging series with a narrative hook and serialized story structure.

Episode length varies depending on the needs of the program. Generally, we start the discussion at 10 to15 minutes per episode, but some series have been as short as seven minutes per episode. We’re looking for a minimum of six episodes in a series.

We want shows that go beyond what you might expect from a public broadcaster. We don’t want something that’s too earnest or preachy. We want stories with a great hook, led by compelling characters and dynamic visuals. It should be something fascinating, fun, relatable or revealing. We’re looking for shows that will spark conversation, and give people a place to be seen and heard. It should be something you can’t find on other platforms and that people will want to tell their friends about.

Target audience
Our content is aimed at 30- to 45-year-old audiences — think older millennials and younger gen X-ers. We want all Canadians to see themselves reflected in our series, and are committed to reaching underserved and under-represented audiences through Gem originals.

This is the topic we get asked about the most! The truth is that budgets on CBC Gem originals vary widely but are much leaner and smaller than what you would expect for a broadcast television series. If your project involves a lot of travel, long shooting periods (e.g. following your character for several months) or complex visual effects, it may not be for us.

We are, however, open to all forms of partnerships, co-productions and windowing opportunities, both domestically and around the world, that help reduce our licence fee. New funding regulation changes around digital content have allowed us to tap into tax credits, CMF and Bell funding to ultimately create better content.

More information can be found at Business and Rights Digital Originals.

How to put together a pitch for a series

  • The pitch document doesn’t need to be more than two pages in length. The clearer and easier it is to absorb the better.
  • Be clear about what the series is and how an episode is structured. What will we see? What will we hear? Make sure those evaluating your pitch can picture how an episode and a season of your series might play out.
  • We want series that the viewer will want to binge watch. Explain the elements of your series that will drive viewers from one episode to the next.
  • If your series will include a host or other talent, please include some compelling video of them, as well. The video doesn’t have to have high production values or be filmed in the style of the show. Otherwise, trailers or other video is not necessary.

How to submit a pitch

One- or two-page pitch documents should be sent to the contact below, along with a signed copy of the CBC’s Submission Release form. If you do have video to support your pitch (e.g. host or talent tape, a short teaser, etc.), you may include links in your email.

All proposals are reviewed by the commissioning team on a regular basis. If there is interest in a project, you will be contacted for further discussion and refinement of the program proposal.
We may ask for a phase of development, the deliverables of which are agreed upon by the producer and the CBC. The level of development funding provided is determined by the deliverables.

Materials will not be reviewed unless accompanied by a signed CBC Submission Release form, available for download here: CBC's Submission Release form (PDF).

Submissions should have “Unscripted/Digital” in the subject line, followed by your proposal’s title.

Contact information
Christian Hamilton
Development Manager, Unscripted Content
email: factualpitch@cbc.ca

How pitches are evaluated

Even when we’re fully committed for the next fiscal year, we’re always looking at new pitches and developing new series. There is no specific cycle, although we are often working with external funding deadlines (e.g. Bell Fund, CMF, Telus, etc.), and funding decisions will influence when we move from development to production.

Once a pitch has been submitted to factualpitch@cbc.ca with a signed CBC Submission Release form (and remember to include “Unscripted/Digital,” followed by the title of your proposal, in the subject line), the pitch will be considered by the unscripted development team. This is the same team that considers all unscripted proposals, so you won’t need to worry about tracking down people in other areas, such as CBC Docs, CBC Life or CBC Arts.

When reviewing new proposals, we’ll evaluate how your concept addresses our needs, as outlined above. You can expect a response in four to six weeks.

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