The BBC and its commercial arm BBC Studios (BBCS) are facing “really big choices” over the “ambition” for direct-to-consumer streamers worldwide, according to Tim Davie.
Davie last year switched from running BBCS to taking the top job at the BBC and has been vocal in his support for new streaming service launches as it seeks to bolster its financing sources.
Speaking at RTS Cambridge in the UK, he said: “We are facing some really big choices. We have a very big distribution business with £500m ($690m) in content sales [annually] – at some point, you ask what’s your ambition to flip that into DTC.
“There are opportunities in terms of launching new services,” Davie continued, pointing to the launch of BritBox in the US.
Going cold turkey on the studios business – and what that means – is quite a balanced decision
Tim Davie, BBC chief
The service, operated with ITV Studios, debuted in North America in 2017 and has since been expanding its reach. It is being rolled into Australia and South Africa, with plans for up to a further 25 country launches mooted by ITV’s CEO Carolyn McCall.
BBCS also expanded its North American SVOD offering with factual streamer BBC Select earlier this year, with the service based on the UK’s BBC Four and targeting “independent thinkers”, carrying shows about “culture, politics and ideas.”
Nuance & nimbleness
However, the strategy to launch a global streamer has long been fraught with difficulty because of BBCS’s long-standing relationships with broadcasters, and more recently streamers, around the world to whom it sells its shows.
The company has previously struck deals with companies such as Discovery, which agreed a 10-year content deal in 2019, effective in all territories outside the UK, Ireland and Greater China.
That agreement made Discovery the exclusive global home of BBC natural history programmes in SVOD, with shows such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet 2 available, as well as future BBC-commissioned landmark series from BBCS. It also prompted mutters of discontent from organisations that had previously acquired such shows.
Davie admitted that any global streamer roll-out would have to be a nuanced play, highlighting the huge network of rights ownership that would be required.
“You have to be very clear in terms of where your partners are and be ruthless about it,” he said.
“Everyone will say just launch BBC iPlayer everywhere but actually there’s a whole rights framework behind that. Going cold turkey on the studios business – and what that means – is quite a balanced decision.”
Davie added that he was “very ambitious” about the future of BBCS, which remains without a CEO since his own move, and said the BBC had sufficient scale to compete with newer entrants such as DTC services form US studios and Netflix.
“Certainly, scale is a factor but it’s not the only factor and you have to decide which games you’re in. What is the extent of ambition for the scale of platforms? That requires incredible focus.
“We have enough scale to compete if we make certain choices and part of that is about striking partnerships and ensuring access to capital – ideas should not be constrained by funding them, because editorially we are very strong and that gives us incredible power.”
He admitted “regret” that the UK’s competition commission had blocked BBC Studios plan back in 2009 to launch a global streamer, a project titled Kangaroo that also had Channel 4 and ITV onboard. He added, however, that he didn’t think “the game is gone”.