UKTV follows the Scripps for success

MIP Preview 2012

Ever since U.S.-based Scripps Networks became the co-owner of British channel provider UKTV, the company’s fortunes have risen.

“Our revenue, our profits and our audience figures are all up,” says UKTV CEO Darren Childs, the former BBC Worldwide Intl. Channels topper who came on board in September 2010.

Following months of speculation, Scripps finally agreed in August to buy Virgin Media’s 50% stake in UKTV, which runs 10 channels (seven pay and three free-to-air webs), in a deal worth $533 million. Having a new owner committed to the business in the long-term is a big bonus, Childs says.

“I would say this, wouldn’t I, but I couldn’t ask for better shareholders,” he says, before outlining the similarities between the two outfits. “Like us, Scripps is incredibly strong in lifestyle brands with their food channels. They understand our business as a multichannel provider in the cable and satellite space because that’s what they do on a day-to-day basis in the U.S.

“Scripps is also very strong in digital and non-linear, another big plus for us.”

Crucially, BBC Worldwide is the other partner in UKTV, without whom UKTV would not be where it is today. The pubcaster’s commercial arm provides the firm with exclusive access to BBC shows following their first-run domestic broadcast window.

This, as Childs puts it, remains “the bedrock” of UKTV’s business. But under Childs’ leadership, UKTV has tweaked the strategy.

Mindful of the success of Blighty’s Freeview digital platform, three of UKTV’s channels are now free to air. And in an online world where UKTV no longer enjoys a monopoly of BBC reruns, because of such services like the BBC iPlayer and VOD operators such as Netflix U.K. and Blinkbox, Childs had no choice but to spend more on content, marketing and branding — or face falling ratings.

Side by side with extra coin being poured into local commissions, UKTV has adopted a more aggressive acquisitions strategy.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in the amount we spend on acquisitions, which is why we’ve been able to buy shows like ‘Grimm,’ ‘Alcatraz’ and ‘Body of Proof,’ ” Childs says.

UKTV’s buyers will be out in force at MipTV, led by Catherine Mackin, while Emma Tennant will represent UKTV for the first time, having moved from ITV.

Says the CEO, “Our team will be in double figures. Mip is important for us, because we cover so many different genres.”

MIP Preview
Connecting the hots | Domino effect of Europe’s DTT switchover | Scripps boosts UKTV fortunes
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