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BBC Worldwide Looks for Steady Sailing at MipTV

Genres galore in play amid reorganization, with an emphasis on becoming self-starters

BBC Worldwide has reorganized its activities, but mainly it will be business as usual at MipTV this year for the pubcaster’s commercial division.

The BBC contingent will be minus head sales man Steve Macallister, who after six years at Worldwide has exited following the reboot. Yet the emphasis at the market is once again on high-end fare across such genres as drama, natural history, comedy and science.

The drama lineup includes shows like “Da Vinci’s Demons,” an eight-part historical skein, along with new 1950s Dublin crime series Quirke, adapted by seasoned screenwriter Andrew Davies and starring Gabriel Byrne, plus 13 fresh episodes of Doctor Who, celebrating its 50th anniversary.

A week after Starz airs “Da Vinci’s Demons” Stateside, the show will air more or less simultaneously on FX international channels in 120 countries, a piece of windowing that drama co-production specialist Ben Donald is keen on.

BBC Worldwide is now developing its own shows and not just waiting for a British producer to come through the door and say ‘Can you help us distribute it?,’ Donald says. “My latest mantra is what I describe as sustainable co-production, which I hope “Da Vinci’s Demons” is.”

Also receiving a premiere at MipTV is the James Corden comedy drama “The Wrong Mans,” co-produced with Hulu.

Starting this month, Worldwide’s businesses, which in addition to sales and distribution include channels and consumer products, will be run on a regional rather than international basis.

“We are entering a new era for BBC Worldwide with an exciting array of opportunities for growth, both in mature and emerging markets, as well as in the explosion of digital routes to market,” says BBC Worldwide global markets prexy Paul Dempsey.

He hopes the changes, set after CEO John Smith quit last December, will lead to greater growth, but as he says: “It’s not like we are a failing business. Under John, there was spectacular growth.”

Clearly, however, there will be a change in emphasis. In the future, more effort will be placed on core areas and organic growth like sales and distribution — as well as channels, Worldwide’s top earner (accounting for around a third of sales), rather than acquisitions like the Lonely Planet publishing biz, recently sold at a $122 million loss to U.S. cigarette billionaire Brad Kelley for $78 million.

Worldwide’s cable channels, which include BBC America, are available in more than 100 countries and generated $517 million in the past financial year.

Under the leadership of new content chief, Helen Jackson, the channels biz is increasingly commissioning its own bespoke content, rather than relying on tried-and-tested fare like “Doctor Who” or “Top Gear” — although obviously these signature shows still have a big part to play.

Sales and distribution last year produced $439 million, almost 26% of total sales, but new CEO Tim Davie is determined to increase this. Part of the thinking involves Worldwide, whose total revenues were $1.63 billion in 2012, ramping up business in non-English markets.

Traditionally, it has done less well in the developing world than in mature English-speaking regions like North America, Oz, South Africa and, of course, the U.K. where it co-owns channels provider UKTV with U.S.-based Scripps.

The plan is to tap into the new middle class, making its presence felt outside Western markets, and “getting closer to the consumer,” says Jackson.

“We decided that the best way to build our business is rather than having a TV sales person in London telling the TV sales person in the U.S. what to do, it makes more sense to have people running things locally,” Jackson says.

By next year’s Mip, Worldwide should know if the new strategy is working.

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