HONG KONG — Growth in Asia is a major priority for BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of U.K. pubcaster BBC.
“We are right at the beginning of this journey and have a heck of a lot of catching up to do,” BBC Worldwide Channels managing director Darren Childs told Daily Variety in Hong Kong. “Many of our competitors have 10 years advance on us.”
The Beeb only carved out a channels division within Worldwide in the last two years and broke up the generalist BBC World net into separate news and entertainment strands. It now offers six channels in the Asian region, and “we’re starting to be well established in those markets,” Childs said.
“Hong Kong (where it has five nets on the Now TV IPTV platform) exceeded our expectations this year, with the performance of Lifestyle and (preschool net) CBeebies a pleasant surprise,” he said.
Childs, a veteran who was involved in the launches of MTV Asia and News Corp.’s Asian satcaster Star, admitted that India “has not done as well as hoped, due to infrastructure issues.”
But he predicted that the territory, which has witnessed massive fragmentation, will enjoy a flight to quality. “Paying for carriage fees will also sort the men from the boys,” he said.
Childs hinted at underperformance in Singapore, but refused to be drawn on whether the channels will migrate from SingTel’s mio TV platform to the dominant cabler StarHub. “All I can say is that next year we will definitely have more subscriptions in Singapore,” he said.
South Korea, where cable dominance is set to be challenged by the emergence of IPTV competition, is also poised for further BBC expansion in the next six months. It has two channels on Skylife and recently unveiled a weekday branded programming block on Science channel. But it is also seeking carriage for its own factual net BBC Knowledge.
Childs said that high definition is a priority, but Worldwide is keeping its options open as how to roll it out. In some territories it could be positioned as a simple upgrade from standard definition, while in others it may be a niche attraction.
Company is a leading producer of original HD content and operates a mixed-genre channel that is not a visual upgrade of any other BBC strand.
Childs was in Hong Kong to deliver Tuesday’s keynote address to execs at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia’s annual conference.
Speech suggested that the role of TV channels is changing, though he insisted linear TV channels are here to stay.
“The role of a channel in this new world is still as a trusted editor, but as a trusted editor across content on many different distribution platforms. The channel can provide content on many different platforms, and its brand can act as the signpost for consumers … the channel becomes the sum of all the streams,” he said.
He told bizzers that online catch-up streaming and download services “generate an overall addition to audiences, and that moving online can enhance rather than damage your core audiences.”
He cited the growing usage of the phenomenally successful BBC iPlayer at the same time as BBC auds in the U.K. rose.
But though he said an international version of the iPlayer is “being considered,” he dashed expectations that a launch could happen any time soon.
“In terms of our priorities for Asia, our linear channels business remains at the core of everything we do. Now we have these channel brands in place in the region, the next step is for us to work with our partners to develop these new services and so to build new opportunities for all of us,” he said.