BBC has an amazing growth area in India: Tim Davie

BBC Worldwide chief executive Tim Davie on the potential of the Indian market and the firm’s joint venture with Sony Pictures Network to launch a new infotainment channel

BBC Worldwide chief executive Tim Davie. Photo: Bloomberg
BBC Worldwide chief executive Tim Davie. Photo: Bloomberg

Tim Davie, director, global, and chief executive at BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), was in New Delhi as part of the group of executives that came for the India-UK Tech Summit.

In an interview, Davie talks about BBC Worldwide’s revenues, potential of the Indian market and the company’s joint venture with Sony Pictures Network to launch a new infotainment channel, Sony BBC Earth. Edited excerpts:

BBC Worldwide monetizes BBC brands and programmes. How big is BBC’s brands business?

Critically, we are separate from the news business. We are in the content business and we work on co-producing and distributing programmes around the world. We are a profitable organization, doing just a bit more than £1 billion in revenue. In terms of cash returns, we returned over £200 million to BBC group last year.

What kind of content do you focus on?

We often focus on content largely originating from British creatives. In the area of factual programming, we do programmes like natural history documentaries. In entertainment, we have programmes like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa in India; we have produced that in over 50 countries. Most of our sales are in drama and fiction, whether it is Sherlock or Doctor Who. In the UK, we are the biggest drama distributor, and outside the US, we have the biggest catalogue of television programmes.

Which are your best markets?

If you are in the media business, the US is the biggest market and that holds true for us as well. We have a big business with BBC America, plus we produce Dancing with the Stars for ABC Network. Outside that, we tend to work well in markets where there is a deep cordial connection or historic ties with the English language or the UK. We are into markets like Australia, Singapore and also places like India where obviously the cordial connection is so strong. We have an amazing growth area in India. India and the UK have common cultural ties that go to our programming and are not just limited to cricket.

What are your expectations from India?

India currently contributes under 5% to our global revenues. This is a market where we are going to see continued growth. We have three primary businesses in India—production, TV sales and digital sales, and what we are really looking forward to is launching a channel in India. It will be a joint venture with Sony Pictures Network. The channel will be called Sony BBC Earth and focus on natural history, science and adventure. It will showcase international content. We are currently waiting for government approvals.

There is no doubt that the media market in India is set for continued growth. I can’t give you an exact number, but the potential here is significant.

Globally, what is the most striking trend in the media and entertainment industry?

From a broadcasting perspective, there is huge growth in drama—global drama and fiction. There has been unstoppable growth in the industry of scripted dramas like Sherlock. There is an appetite for cut-through content that makes a real difference. Like Sherlock—people are hungry for the next episode.

In music, live music and music streaming is growing. This kind of content is not available on demand or on YouTube. We did a live special with Adele in London, which sold brilliantly around the world. We are seeing a more event-based programming in music.

How rapidly is BBC Worldwide growing?

Last year, our revenues grew at 6.7%, profit was broadly 3-4%, but we sold a part of BBC America. I can’t say about the targets, but we have promised to return £1.2 billion to our shareholders in the next five years. We are looking for over 20% growth in the next five years.

How big is BBC’s digital division?

In US, we have announced that we are going over-the-top with a BBC service that people will be able to subscribe to. Separately, in places like Singapore, we have a BBC Player where people can access certain content. So, clearly, we are not constrained or limited by a linear channel.

There are a lot of opportunities for us in India as well.

Where is the future of digital—in advertising or behind a paywall?

It would be presumptuous at this point to say definitely that one model works and the other doesn’t. It depends on the content. I will say, in our experience in the digital market, it certainly seems that subscription services are for long-form programming. It has its attraction to the consumers.

But that doesn’t mean we have a hardened policy in this area. We are light on our toes and have to be flexible towards the market.

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