BBC Worldwide ups ante in China

U.K. pubcaster shows its wares in Beijing

BEIJING — BBC Worldwide launched its flagship BBC Showcase in China Wednesday, as the British pubcaster aims to boost co-productions to expand its presence in one of the world’s fastest growing TV markets.

“This is our first BBC Showcase China and it underlines our commitment to the China market,” said Steve Macallister, m.d. of sales and distribution at BBC Worldwide.

“We’ve been doing business in China for 20 years and have a number of strong partnerships. Partnerships are of key, fundamental importance.

“Co-productions are a way forward. We have a lot of experience and there is a lot demand here in China,” said Macallister, in an interview on the sidelines of the event, which hosts more than 100 buyers from across the Chinese television industry, including state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), and regional, local and digital networks.

Among the partnerships was the Beeb’s tie-up with CCTV to make the nature skein “Wild China,” which screened in China as “Beautiful China,” and has shown in 60 countries.

At the event, BBC Worldwide will launch more than 500 hours of the latest skeins from its catalog, covering genres such as children’s, entertainment and factual.

BBC Worldwide’s strengths in China are natural history programming and children’s TV. “Teletubbies” and “In the Night Garden” are big hits in China, and there are Teletubbies Early Learning Centers in Beijing and Shenzhen.

The group has also signed a costume drama link-up with

“We have a deal with Sohu and there are more and more opportunities for convergence,” said Macallister.

There was keen interest in the drama “Sherlock,” while other titles BBC Worldwide will be hoping to sell to Chinese auds include “Life,”

“Human Planet,” “Seven Wonders of the Solar System” and “Luther,” and the rugrats shows “Wibbly Pig” and “ZingZillas.”

“It’s an important market. It’s relatively small, it is regulated but we believe you need to invest and we’ve been building relationships for 20 years, hence the showcase. There is significant potential here,” said Macallister.

With its rigid controls of the media sector, some Western broadcasters and filmmakers complain that China is not always the easiest environment to work in. Asked about the censorship issue — which led to the BBC’s website being blocked for many years — Macallister said: “We are dealing in the entertainment space. We abide by the rules and regulations of every country we operate in.”

The event also included a Digital Forum to focus on digital distribution opportunities.

The BBC Showcase event takes place annually in the U.K. and is Britain’s biggest television export market. BBC Showcase China is the third regional spin-off after the Latin American event, which launched in 2004 and takes place annually in Rio de Janeiro.

Turning to the other hot story out of BBC Worldwide in recent weeks — whether a Chinese-language version of “The Office” is on its way, Mark Macdonald, veep of communications at BBC Worldwide, said a shingle called World Film Group had taken an option on the format, and was looking for a way into China, but that there was no broadcaster or producer in place yet.

Ricky Gervais generated great excitement when he blogged earlier this month: “We are about to start work on a Chinese ‘The Office.’ How cool is that?”

The format has already been sold to numerous markets, including the U.S., France, French-speaking Canada, Germany, Israel and Latin America.

World Film Group, which is run by Gotham-based film financier John Heyman, father of “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman, is developing the story through its Hong Kong unit.

“It’s very early days yet,” said Macdonald.

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