BBC Worldwide CEO Targets U.S. Growth

Tim Davie - H 2012
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Tim Davie says BBC America has reached "a positive tipping point," discusses the success of "Sherlock" and plans for the launch of new channels, such as male-skewing BBC Brit and BBC First, which aims to mirror the HBO and Showtime brands.

LONDON – BBC Worldwide is targeting further growth of its U.S. business, which includes BBC America, CEO Tim Davie said here Monday, calling it "a small big business, which needs to grow."

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch event, the head of the commercial arm of the U.K. public broadcaster said the company's U.S. revenue is close to $600 million.

Asked by THR what growth drivers in the U.S. could be, he cited "breakthrough content," such as "a bigger BBC drama hit" on BBC America, which airs Doctor Who, as well as other BBC and non-BBC shows from the U.K.

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Davie also did not entirely rule out launching more U.S. channels, noting that BBC Worldwide would "just keep looking at options."

Asked how he feels about his company's lack of a big portfolio of channels and therefore scale in the U.S. market where "size matters", Davie said that in terms of audience scale, "we have reached a positive tipping point" with BBC America.

He added that such BBC hits as Doctor Who have such strong fan bases that it puts BBC America in a good position with pay TV firms.

Davie also said Monday that he is hoping BBC Worldwide's commitment to pump $330 million (200 million pounds) into "premium content" over the next financial year 2014/15, for which Davie said he has the financing in place to do, will drive growth.

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Distinctive drama is a key focus for content spending by BBC Worldwide, Davie said, reiterating other industry executives' description of the current time as "a golden age" of TV drama.

Davie cited BBC Worldwide's "major" investment in commissioning its own channel-defining content, such as Intruders, starring John Sim with executive producer Glen Morgan (The X-Files), as being indicative of the strategy. The eight-parter is set to go into production in February in Vancouver, Canada.

Davie, who runs marathons for fun and was tasked with steering the broadcaster and its commercial arm out of choppy waters after the fallout from the Jimmy Savile sex scandal saw then-director general George Entwistle resign, also touted the continued financial growth of BBC Worldwide, saying year-over-year growth "keeps happening."

Asked how he is thinking about global versus regional content," he said BBC Worldwide has invested in Sherlock because it believes in its global appeal. He said the firm is mainly looking for "highly distinctive" drama with a British quality.

Asked about his company's interest in taking stakes in independent TV producers, he said BBC Worldwide is these days focusing on first-look and other deals with creatives and possible funding partnerships with nascent companies.

Davie also reiterated the need to overhaul BBC Worldwide's global channels business, including the possible launch of new channels. He said pilot market launches will be made in the next year.

BBC Earth is one channel concept that BBC Worldwide is in talks for linear channel launches in various countries. Davie also said there could be BBC Earth branded programming blocks on such BBC Worldwide networks as BBC America.

Another channel is a channel concept called BBC Brit, which will be piloted in one to two lead countries and target male viewers. He touted the BBC's male-skewing content, including Top Gear, possible historic documentaries, quiz formats and British comedy, the last of which needs more thought for global rollouts. Davie said the channel, like other BBC Worldwide networks, will also commission original shows.

A third new network concept, BBC First, will be piloted in Australia and offer high-quality drama, some comedy and select events on the Foxtel pay TV platform as a premium channel. The launch happens this summer. Asked by a reporter if its brand's ambition was to become the BBC answer to U.S. premium channel HBO, he said yes.

"That can be a showcase for British drama even beyond the BBC," Davie said. Launches of the same network idea could then follow in various countries, Davie said, emphasizing though that the U.S. is an exception, because BBC America there works well.

Asia, Central Europe and other regions could be interesting markets for channel launches. Markets where BBC programming sales are strong, such as Germany, channel launches are less likely, Davie said.

If the BBC Trust, the governing body of the BBC, approves a plan to let U.K. viewers access TV programs from seven days to 30 days for free for catch-up purposes, BBC Worldwide could become the operator of a store that would sell BBC content. If the BBC Trust approves it in the coming months, users would have an opportunity to buy TV programs and other content from the BBC on, Davie said.

Asked about whether some content could be available there exclusively, Davie said he was focused on non-exclusive deals.

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