BBC Worldwide rules as mart hits record high

Sales inked included deal with South Africa's M-Net

LONDON — BBC Worldwide execs were in a celebratory mood as they gathered in the seaside town of Brighton for the commercial arm’s 30th Showcase, which the BBC touts as the world’s largest international television market hosted by a single distributor.

And it wasn’t just the Feb. 27 anniversary dinner, including a retrospective of 30 years of BBC programming, which had them raising their glasses.

Once again, the Beeb was oversubscribed for the five-day program market, with 525 buyers from more than 100 broadcasters turning up to see some 1,500 new programs. Sales inked by March 1 included a major deal with South African pay-TV operator M-Net for a package of 23 TV movies, while Australia’s Seven Network snapped up big-budget drama docs “Hannibal — Rome’s Worst Nightmare” and “Blackbeard — The Real  Pirate of the Caribbean” as well as two further series of “Judge John Deed” among other titles.

“Our total sales are going to be up on last year and I think the volume of sales that we do in the last six weeks of our financial year will be even stronger than it was last year,” says Mark Young, BBC Worldwide’s director of global TV sales. “We do expect another record year.”

Last year, Worldwide made a £50 million ($87.5 million) profit, making it by far Blighty’s largest program distributor, and this year, Young predicts that figure will reach $131 million.

Driving that growth are a number of factors, including the success of breakout format “Strictly Come Dancing” (reformatted Stateside on ABC as “Dancing With the Stars”) that continues to waltz its way around the world, as well as an improvement in the German market and the fact that smaller cable and satellite channels are now paying top dollar for imported programming.

“The emerging markets are really driving new sales,” Young adds. “They’re now buying in much greater volumes.”

New programming in the spotlight at this year’s event included the BBC’s latest blue chip natural history epic “Planet Earth,” drama skeins “Hotel Babylon” and “Life on Mars,” and kids’ shows “The Secret Show” and “Charlie and Lola.”

The fact that four of those five titles are from independent producers speaks volumes about Worldwide’s commitment to that sector, Young says.

“That’s fantastic for us to be able to attract really high-quality indie distribution rights,” he notes. “Indies want to be associated with us because we sell their product really well.”

Also prime on the agenda is high-definition TV, with a demo area screening BBC programming on wide-screen TVs and other portable devices. Next year’s event is likely to see a much stronger focus on new media platforms, such as mobile and VOD.

“The aim is to maintain Showcase as a broadcast event, but to look at how we can integrate new media, mobile and VOD services in a way that doesn’t detract from the concept that this is an event for broadcasters,” Young says. “We’ve all got to work together to make sure that there is an economic model that works for us and works for the new-media provider.”