Interview with Grant Welland, EVP CEMA, BBC Worldwide
CEETV participated in a roundtable with BBC Worldwide's EVP CEMA Grant Welland during the BBC Showcase. Questions from other media are also used in the interview
- Tell us more about the Showcase and what it means to your business?
Grant Welland: It's a pretty unique and special event. It's the single largest international TV market hosted by a single distributor, that makes it unique. We are the largest distributor of TV programming outside of the US studios. As you may have heard, this is the 40th year of the event. It started in 1976 when it was held in a small pub in Brighton. Then we had 25 buyers. This year we have over 700. It has grown massively in those 40 years. For those 700 buyers, we have 600 high-tech screening booths, where the buyer sits for anywhere between 6 and 8 hours a day, screening content. It takes 350 BBCW staff to make it all happen, quite a large endeavor. The way the event works - as well as the opportunity for delegates to screen, we also hold a series of presentations, seminars during the day. Generally, they tend to work around genres. For example today we will have a drama presentation where we focus on some of the key content, we'll often have talent involved, both on and off-screen, talking about how they made it, helping our clients navigate it. On Tuesday we have Sir David Attenbourough and Louis Theroux presenting an hour on natural history which should be very interesting for our guests. In the evening we also have events, these tend to be pretty spectacular themed nights, Monday night is Top Gear, it will be a tease for the new series which will air in the UK in May and we have all 7 of the new presenters. Tuesday night this year is crime night, we have quite a body now of really successful crime dramas, so we are hosting a night based on crime with lots of talent involved.
The other thing the Showcase is known for is the amount of talent we amass. We've got the new Top Gear guys, we've got some of our key drama stars: James Norton who is in War and Peace and in Happy Valley; Keeley Horse; Matthew Macfadyen from Ripper Street; Ben Miller, the comedian; quite a lot of other people. That's a little bit about what it is.
BBC Worldwide is a 100% subsidiary of the public service BBC and what we are really here to do is to generate funds to allow reinvestment in programming and also to return money to the BBC. The idea is that it therefore reduces the cost of the BBC to the UK license fee payer, we've estimated that it reduces the license fee by 10 Pounds per year.
BBC Worldwide is a one billion Pounds turnover company and about 350 million of that come from TV sales and events like this are obviously key in driving that money. It is a really important event for us. But beyond that it is also important to the UK creative industry as we represent about 200 independent producers so we are also promoting their content too.
- What are the highlights that you are selling this year?
G.W: Top Gear, which I've mentioned, promoting the release of the new program in May. Some of our big dramas this year: War and Peace and some newer dramas that haven't aired in the UK yet, we have SS-GB which is based on Len Deighton novel and it's based on Germany winning the battle in Britain in 1940 and basically England being governed by Germany but is actually a crime story; we've got Happy Valley 2 which was a big success for us last year and is returning for a second season and also other drama: One of Us, number of big titles this year.
- What kind of representation in terms of buyers you have from Africa?
G.W: We've got representatives from Liquid which is a telecom company but runs a SVOD service; we have our DVD partners called Next, we have people from Uganda broadcasters, from Nigeria, quite a number - about 15 clients from Africa this year which is the highest number we've ever had. Africa has traditionally been a channels market for us, where we operate channels but we opened our office in Johannesburg last year, in January with the intention to grow the business there on multiple fronts and we are finding a real explosion of SVOD services, particularly in South Africa at the moment. Lots of the SVOD players want to buy our content for their launches - Showmax, PCCW service, the MTN service, this is our focus this year.
- In terms of content, what gets picked up the most in Africa?
G.W: In Africa our primary business is our branded channels business. We run the full suite of BBC branded channels - BBC First, BBC Lifestyle, BBC Brit, BBC Eartn, Cbeebies. They pick up the lion share of our new programming. That goes for the first window of our programming. What we are fidning now is that SVOD services that once competed with MultiChoice, they are now very interested in picking up second window content. What tends to work in that area is drama, children, documentaries; etc. Our business today is being very much focused on South Africa and reaching Africa through the MultiChoice platform. Now we have a local presence, meeting with people in Uganda, Kenya, I am going to Kenya in a couple of weeks to meet with a number of broadcasters, so we are looking to grow and we are interested to see what they want.
It is a really exciting market because Digital Terrestrial Television has a sweep across Africa so a plethora of channels are launching, all looking for content so it should be an interesting market over the next few years.
- Getting back to the digital side of things on a global level - in 2012 Steve Macallister (president and MD, Sales and Distribution) told us that 10% of revenues were coming from digital, how has this changed in the past few years?
G.W: the 10% revenue from digital is on global level for BBCW. Now it's three times. Digital revenues have increased by 41% year on year (2014/2015); digital accounted for 30% of content sales revenues in last FY and VOD revenues increased 66% YOY.
- In 2014/2015 you announced TV and digital headline sales of 345.3 million Pounds, that's the 350 million you mentioned, can you reveal your expectations for 2015/2016?
G.W: It will definitely grow. One of the things driving that growth is the expansion of outlets that digital has created.
- In terms of digital again, the CEE region is lagging behind a little bit from other territories, have you seen growth in CEE in digital sales and are you working with digital-based companies or are you working with broadcasters who are expanding their digital footprint?
G.W: Our business in CEE is primarily through broadcasters: both FTA and pay-TV. Digital has struggled to get a real foothold, partly because of piracy and partly because of economics. Two-three years ago we saw, a little bit like Africa over the last couple of years, same thing happened in Russia, a lot of local players emerged and we had various deals with them but they had mixed fortunes and a lot of them had to move away from the subscription service and move to an advertising-funded service for their revenue. But there have been some very interesting spots in CEE. One of our SVOD partners is called Pickbox which is based in Croatia, so there are certainly local players there and I expect will see more, particularly as with Netflix's arrival - they will create an awareness of that model that will bring other people into it.
A lot of the broadcasters are trying to find a way to compete with that by adding their own VOD service, whether it is a separate subscription or whether it is part of what they already offer. It is an increasingly interesting conversation what type of rights we are given to different broadcasters, based on what their ambitions are to move into the on-demand space.
- Regarding Top Gear in Poland - we know that it will be broadcast on BBC Brit. Are you going to sell the program to other broadcasters in Poland?
G.W: I think we'll keep it under review. There is an inherent tension there between wanting to have the broadest audience to all of our programs and on the other hand, a real commitment to building our own brands and to our affiliate partners. I can't say at this point. Top Gear was previously broadcast on TVN Turbo as well as Brit, we've taken a decision for now to keep it just with BBC Brit but as circumstances change, we will keep it under review.
- Is that the same for the Middle East, it is on OSN?
G.W: No, at present we don't have plans to create a BBC Brit channel for the Middle East. We launched BBC First recently which is a drama channel but OSN is a really important partner for us on Top Gear going forward but this is an event for unveiling it, we are not that deep into the sales side yet so I can't where it will go but OSN is an important partner.
What was your response to the news about Matt LeBlanc as one of the presenters of Top Gear? It was an amazingly well-kept secret, when it was announced at my area, nobody knew about it. We are all trying to reimagine, reboot the brand and I think the presenters and what they represent and their interests, it should be very interesting. Top Gear is an unusual beast because it started out as a car-review show and when it was changed in the early 2000s, all of a sudden it found a massive female audience who responded to the entertainment side of it. We want to build on that, not trying to go younger or different, just broadening. It is the biggest factual entertainment brand in the world. We can only aspire to make that bigger.
- It is hugely popular in South Africa...
G.W: Yes, massive. Have you ever been to one of the live events there? Same as in Poland. When we did the live event in Warsaw, it was in the main stadium, it got 60.000 people attending.
- It was the biggest Top Gear live event ever.
G.W: You are right. We are really hoping, through reestablishing the brand in the coming year that we can look for those opportunities to expand the brand and what we do with it in the regions because people really respond to it.