No two CEE territories are the same: An interview with Salim Mukaddam - VP and GM for CEE, BBC Worldwide
At the BBC Showcase which took place in Liverpool, Stanislav Kimchev met with BBCWW’s Salim Mukaddam and discussed the company’s business strategy in the CEE region.
CEETV: Salim, tell us a little bit more about your role as VP and GM for CEE at BBC Worldwide - what are your main responsibilities?
SM: My responsibilities are to look after all of our business operations across Central and Eastern Europe, so across all 28 countries, that’s everywhere from the Baltics to the Balkans, from the Czech Republic to Kazakhstan, excluding Poland - Poland is a separate operation for us. That means looking after our TV sales business, our format sales, digital sales and our channels business in these territories.
CEETV: What are the main opportunities and challenges in the CEE region for BBC Worldwide, compared to other markets?
SM: One of the biggest opportunities is the diverse nature of CEE, no two territories are the same so that makes for a fun business and no two days are the same. The digital aspects of CEE are slightly less developed in comparison to say North America or Western Europe, which means there’s a lot of opportunity for us to partner with emerging digital services. In particular in Russia, we’re witnessing a lot of growth, we’ve signed our first deals with platforms like Megogo, with ivi.ru, with Okko, as well as having a long-standing relationship with Rostelecom and Amediateka. We can only see growth in this sector in CEE now and we’re very excited about that.
I think the biggest challenge is just the proliferation of content now, there’s so much content out there that people in acquisition roles have a lot of choice, so we have to make sure that our titles standout. I think we do a very good job with that, in terms of the quality of BBC content - it’s second to none. I’ve literally just come from a meeting with one of our public broadcast clients in CEE and they described playing in the BBC content catalog as ‘Disneyland for content acquisition’ -, it’s easy to find platforms for content like Blue Planet, when it looks incredible, it rates incredibly well, it was the highest rating program in the UK last year, even beating one of the big entertainment formats.
CEETV: Talking about content, what are your latest highlights that you are presenting here at the BBC Showcase, which you expect to sell well in the CEE region?
SM: McMafia, which has already broadcast in the UK to massive acclaim, for CEE it’s incredibly relevant and - we’ve already had some phenomenal interest for that content so I’m very happy about that., We have The Split, which is being launched at this market, which is a fantastic new relationship drama from Abi Morgan. It uses the world of divorce law as its backdrop because London is the divorce capital of the world. She has written this story from a strong female perspective, it’s about a family - a strong mother and her three daughters, and it’s really about the relationship between them, as well as and the intergenerational relationships, husband and wife relationships, all beautifully shot on location in London. It’s not Suits - it’s a brilliant relationship drama, and what we’ve seen of it so far looks fantastic. We’ve also got Press which is coming from Lookout Point and that’s essentially the story of two very different newspapers, one coming from a tabloid right wing perspective, and another from a left-wing broadsheet viewpoint, it’s about the characters and relationships between the different personalities employed at both papers and the complex reasoning for the positions they take there, what may initially seem to be polarizing opinions can be very different when you explore a bit deeper. Ben Chaplin and Charlotte Riley play the lead roles and what we’ve seen of that looks incredible and we’re going to see some extended highlights of that in our Drama Premiere here.
Then we’ve got another title from Lookout Point, we’ve got, Les Misérables, which is going back to the Victor Hugo text, so it’s not the musical - there will be no music in it, and we’ve got incredible talent in there - Dominic West, Lilly Collins and David Oyelowo. we’re very excited about that, it’s going to be shot on location, in Northern France, it’s going to be incredible - fantastic budget for that as well. And then the other thing that I’m excited about is the new Doctor Who. The timing could not be more perfect for a strong, female lead and really just changing what has been a very tried and tested formula for many years and just shaking the whole thing up dramatically, Jodie Whittaker as the lead, but also bringing Chris Chibnall as the show runner, both of them are known really well from Broadchurch or Murder on the Beach, as it’s known in some territories, so I think it’s going to be fantastic, it’s going to be one to watch for sure.
CEETV: What are BBC Worldwide latest deals in our region and what is your best selling content?
Sherlock still continues to be a powerhouse in CEE, series 4 was the highest-rated non-Russian program in Russia in 2017. Soft crime does very well in our region- Father Brown, which is a series that runs in daytime in the UK, does incredibly well - it’s on TV Centre in Russia and it gets incredible ratings, and they’ve just picked up the entire catalogue once again and we’ve also sold it to MTVA Hungary and to Czech TV in the Czech Republic. Doctor Who is doing incredibly well even before the new series, so it’s on Sony Sci-Fi in Russia and does very well there, it’s on Pickbox in Croatia and the Balkans. And the Doctor Who Christmas special we put into cinemas across Russia and CIS, screening in over 300 cinemas at Christmas and it takes a special title to be able to have a theatrical release like that.
Dancing with the Stars continues to be a huge sell in our territories, so we have just sold it to 1+1 in Ukraine - they haven’t had Dancing with the Stars in 10 years, and they brought it back and the ratings went through the roof, which is fantastic. Last year we did a big deal with CME Group and sold Dancing with the Stars to five different territories there, and the Romanian version did incredibly well. Great Bake Off does well in CEE as well, we have a good history of scripted formats in CEE, especially in Russia. In the past we’ve done Life on Mars, and Luther, we also licensed Luther in the Czech Republic and recently we’ve just licensed Doctor Foster, which was a smash hit in the UK and we just licensed the Russian version - Star Media will be making that for Rossiya 1 in Russia.
Q: Talking about cinemas, there is this trend of launching pilot episodes of hit series in cinemas across different territories. Do you plan on doing something similar, for example with Good Omens?
Good Omens is an Amazon co-production, so Amazon would be very involved in this release, so I think that will premiere on the Amazon platform. But you look at each piece of content in its own merits and decide what do with it then. Event cinema has become a huge industry in the last couple of years, and if the right content is available, it makes perfect sense to do that, I used to run our music division and we were part of pioneering music event cinema - so if it’s the right content, we’ll look at it at the time.
CEETV: How many buyers do you expect at the BBC Showcase this year?
SM:From CEE, around 60, it’s a huge number of people here.
CEETV: Are classic BBC sitcoms still topping the list of BBC Worldwide best-selling titles?
SM: I can only speak for CEE. It has become a much more sophisticated market now. For classic comedy, it still does well, but for the majority of our clients that’s not what drives audiences and it’s not what drives sales. Premium drama and factual is what sells and what drives audiences, so things like Father Brown, Top of the Lake and big landmark documentaries, like Planet Earth, Blue Planet 2, they all drive viewers and they all increase the reputation of the BBC brand. Doctor Foster does incredibly well, Sherlock we’ve already discussed, Top Gear also. Yes, we continue to sell classic comedies, for instance we recently licensed Only Fools and Horses and You Rang M’Lord to RTL Croatia, but it’s the front-list premium drama, landmark natural history content that’s really driving audiences in CEE.
CEETV: Have your content sales to on-demand services increased significantly in the past few years in the region?
SM:Our content sales, globally, massively - they’re up more than 20%. In CEE, as I was saying, it’s still an emerging business in terms of digital, but our sales are up dramatically, and it’s about the growth of the platforms. We have good relationships with platforms like Pickbox, Amediateka, we’ve sold to ivi.ru, Megogo, Okko, RostTelekom, Viaplay, Voyo - and we’ll continue to grow wherever there are opportunities. There are new companies here, especially from Russia, there are big players attending the Showcase this year. The likes of Odnoklasniki are here, Yandex are here, so there are significant opportunities for us to grow in the digital market at the moment.
CEETV: Taking out The Great Bake Off and Dancing with the Stars, what would be your most successful formats in CEE?
SM: There’s so many, I’ve mentioned some before, but in the last 12 months we’ve sold Mastermind to Rossiya Kultura and that’s doing incredibly well, they produced 16 episodes, and hopefully will do more. We’ve licensed Doctor Foster to StarMedia and VGTRK, You’re Back in the Room has been sold to Slovakia and Slovenia. Dancing with the Stars is doing incredibly well as per usual, and we’ve just agreed to a deal in Estonia with TV3 for Bake Off. So, it continues to grow. I think at this market, we’ve got some really exciting younger-skewing formats - things like Blink and Phone Data, which I think will appeal to more digital services as well, so I think we’ve got a real broad spectrum of great formats available.
CEETV: What are your plans for your BBC channels business in CEE, new channels, new VOD services maybe?
SM: In the CEE we have BBC World News and BBC Earth. In the last 12 months we’ve added a million subscribers to BBC Earth in CEE by launching it in Macedonia with VIP and Makedonski Telekom; we launched on January 1 with Hrvatski Telekom,Iskon and Optima in Croatia; and last year we launched in Bosnia and in Serbia with Elta Kabel and Telekom Srbija. Across the Balkans we have full penetration for BBC Earth. There are a couple of spots for us to do get full penetration across CEE so that’s the objective for us next year. In our territories premium drama is sought after by audiences, so I think there may be an opportunity for us to look at launching something like BBC First which is our premium drama channel and we are exploring what to with CBeebies, our preschool brand on linear and in the SVOD market in particular. There are lots of opportunities for us so we are prioritizing the ones we want to pursue and assessing who the right partners are.