BBC Worldwide CEO Targets 'Plenty of Growth'

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Tim Davie, head of the U.K. public broadcaster's commercial arm, says BBC content is still "massively underexploited" around the world.

LONDON - The BBC's content is still "massively underexploited" abroad, BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie said here Friday.

"There's plenty of growth to be had" for the commercial arm of the U.K. broadcaster, with additional content sales, new approaches to windowing, live events and merchandising among the opportunities for upside, he told the Financial Times Digital Media Conference here.

BBC Worldwide had revenue of more than $1.54 billion (£1 billion) last year.

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Davie, who took on his role just a few weeks ago after serving as interim director general of the BBC amid the Jimmy Savile scandal, highlighted a recent deal with Twitter, which will use clips from such well-established BBC franchises as Top Gear and Doctor Who. Davie said this could create additional consumer interest in the shows in addition to giving the company a cut of advertising sales around its content.

Strong niche brands and lead brands will do well in the digital age, while mid-market brands will see "a great clear-out," Davie predicted. "Audiences are going to be brutal with you." That could mean that BBC Worldwide may do away with some of its linear channels. The company will have to “make some choices" on programming offers in the "middle ground," he said. "I'm not going to struggle with propositions in the mid-tier."

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Davie said that the BBC's strong shows and reputation will help it to focus on deal opportunities in the premium content area, which could also warrant their own windows. Highlighting a recent deal for a BBC premium network with Foxtel in Australia, he said it will offer high-end content as part of a premium tier for a one-year exclusive period before the content becomes available in the free-to- air space.

Davie said he had no interest in making a slew of acquisitions, including in the digital media space, to try his luck in a variety of areas. "There's plenty of blood on the dance floor in terms of digital media acquisitions," he said. "I'm pretty confident that focus can deliver growth."

He added: "Great businesses know what they are. I will drive this operation more with an editorial focus on premium content." BBC Worldwide has been criticized for recently selling its much-questioned stake in travel guide provider Lonely Planet for a loss.

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Davie cited the BBC Earth brand as an example of a premium channel brand that has more upside around the world. "We're thinking of live events, linear channels, merchandise," he said. People would be willing to spend additional time and money on such a brand, he argued.

Asked how he got the call to take over the BBC on an interim basis, Davie said: "I was watching Skyfall with my kids" and had to walk out of the movie theater.
"That was when the BBC was in a bit of a hole."

What did he learn during his five months in charge? Davie joked he may one day write a small volume about crisis management.

In terms of news and editorial, he said his time as interim boss drove home the point that "we're in a different world now." With the speed of news and developing stories having accelerated, editors must quickly separate news and reliable information from noise these days. Said Davie: "The skills of editors are changing rapidly."

Twitter: @georgszalai