Doctor Who and Prehistoric Planet producer BBC Studios (BBCS) is actively looking at buying production companies around the world as part of its strategy to double in size within five years.
The commercial arm of the UK public broadcaster has focused almost all of its investment on UK production groups over the past decade, with recent deals seeing the company take a minority stake in Small Axe producer, Turbine Studios.
It also took full ownership of Inside The Factory outfit Voltage TV and acquired a 25% stake in Mothership Productions, the unscripted indie set up by former Channel 4 exec, Kelly Webb-Lamb, but BBCS CEO Tom Fussell told TBI that deals for global companies are now being explored.
“We have set up organically in some places outside the UK, but we are also now looking at other opportunities to invest in companies internationally,” said Fussell, who revealed at MIPCOM last year that BBCS is aiming to double its revenues by 2027 by “growing development, content spend and creative ambition.”
Stakes & support
That strategy now seems to be taking shape, following a stellar set of results in 2021/22 when it revealed record profits of £226m ($267m), as well as a new sales high that hit almost $2bn.
The company also now has access to an increasing pot of capital, with its borrowing capability set to more than double from £350m to £750m by 2027, meaning more potential for investment.
BBCS invested in South African producer Rapid Blue in 2016 and more recently lauched a German prodco after exiting its All3Media joint venture Tower Productions in 2020, with BBCS Germany MD Philipp Schmid lead the new stand-alone production business.
It also has its LA-based production division but Fussell told TBI that the company is now actively looking to expand its global capabitlites by both buying stakes in production companies and launching labels with creatives.
“It might be equity stakes or setting people up in offices, but it is all part of the same thing. Some might call it M&A but really what is the difference?,” said Fussell, who replaced Tim Davie in the top job at BBCS in 2021.
“Sometimes it is better sometimes to find an established business if the culture fits and go from there – I am really keen on looking at that ambition and we are having a good look at many things, but the opportunity has to be right.”
Fussell, who said UK acquisitions also continue to be explored, added that BBCS’s commercial mandate meant it was justified in investing in international firms, despite being the commercial arm of a publically funded broadcaster.
“We are a commercial business, we are commercially run and we have a very clear mandate on what we are trying to do,” he said, pointing to the previous Rapid Blue investment, among others.
“We will not rule anything out,” he continued. “We have the ambition to double the size of this business and we come from a very strong base. We have the backing of one of the UK’s finest business men in Damon Buffini as our chairman and some fantastic people on our new board.
“The ambition is there, we are being really considered in where we want to enter the market and why, but what I have learned is you can’t rule anything out. You just understand things more. The biggest thing for us is cultural fit and to make sure [acquired companies & creatives] really get us – we are a BBC global company and we have the BBC brands and values behind us. Everyone gets what that means.
“That’s the biggest hurdle to get in the door here – then there is the very high creative bar. From there, we take it on and we are certainly having a look.”
To read TBI’s full interview with Tom Fussell, check out our upcoming London Screenings edition.