Pubcaster plans launches in three continents

LONDON — After a year of strong growth across all its channels — including a 91% increase in ratings for BBC America — BBC Worldwide is heading south of the U.S. border for the next phase of its global strategy.

In a landmark deal for its commercial arm, next month will see the launches of two BBC-branded channels, BBC Entertainment and CBeebies, in Mexico, as part of a wider strategic partnership with media conglom Televisa.

It’s the first time the Beeb’s wholly owned nets have entered the Latin America market, and is the latest in a string of bows for the global channels business, headed by former Sony exec Darren Childs.

“We’re looking at Latin America as a key opportunity,” Childs says. “It’s a continent where we’ve been spending a lot of time and energy and focus, because we’ve not really had a presence there at all, apart from our news service.”

Both CBeebies, which will offer Spanish pre-school programming, and BBC Entertainment, modeled on BBC America, are part of a portfolio of five channels that have been rolling out across the globe starting with Asia in 2006.

In June, BBC Worldwide announced it was taking 100% ownership of Australian pay TV channel UK.TV and teaming up with local paybox Foxtel to launch BBC HD, BBC Knowledge and CBeebies, while September will see a suite of four BBC channels added to South Africa’s MultiChoice satellite platform.

“To be launching across three continents and across multiple markets is a real testament to the team’s work here,” says Childs, who believes BBC Worldwide is offering audiences a compelling alternative to the major U.S. channel brands.

“Most multichannel is dominated by the American studios. We’re providing really for the first time a different voice to the American voice. That’s making a real connection.”

Auds are responding favorably.

In Poland, for example, where BBC Entertainment, BBC Lifestyle, BBC Knowledge and CBeebies launched in December, the combined webs now have the largest audience of any channel network, and CBeebies is the No. 1-rating kids channel for parents of young children.

Yet as Childs says, it took a major rethink to kickstart what had been an underperforming channels biz, and some rivals were skeptical of the Beeb’s ambitions.

“One of our objectives was to bring BBC content to a bigger audience and to a local audience, which was a big sea change in strategy,” he says.

Key to the success has been showcasing the best of the Beeb’s vast output, as well as offering localized channel feeds, rather than targeting an expat audience.

Not surprisingly, that has taken a sizable investment, and last year it resulted in the division’s profits dipping, from £20.9 million ($41.3 million) to $24.9 million.

However, with revenues up 8.8% to $361.8 million, there are no plans to take the foot off the gas just yet, and Worldwide is eyeing more bows in Europe and even the U.S.

“We’re in a pretty big investment period right now, and we will be for the next couple of years,” Childs says.

U.S. plans include launching VOD services based on all the BBC channels, as well as an HD simulcast offering for BBC America later this year, and more niche webs.

“We’re also looking at ethnic channels as well,” Childs adds. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw our Hindi channel in the U.S. in the future.”

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