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Chinese Buyers Pull Out of BBC Showcase, Impacting U.K. Screenings (EXCLUSIVE)

Next week’s London-based U.K. Screenings sales events are set to be heavily impacted by the absence of key Chinese buyers, a number of whom have pulled out from the BBC Studios Showcase on the back of China’s coronavirus outbreak, Variety has confirmed.

Production and distribution powerhouse BBC Studios annually hosts a raft of Chinese buyers in Liverpool for the days-long Showcase event, when the BBC’s distribution arm presents its latest offerings to hundreds of global buyers, who are in the market for everything from non-scripted entertainment formats to natural history programming and primetime drama. The event is scheduled to kick off on Sunday and will continue through to Wednesday (Feb. 12).

A number of deals around co-productions and sales are signed or finalized at the event – a key networking and sales opportunity for BBC Studios, which normally flies in the bulk of its sales force from around the world.

This year, around 20 Chinese organizations will be missing from the event, covering 40 executives in total. Around 600 to 700 buyers are generally expected at Showcase. BBC Studios’ Beijing team will also be missing in action.

Variety understands that buyers from Chinese digital giant Tencent and streamer Bilibili are among those who have pulled out. The Beijing-based Tencent, in particular, have been key partners on a number of landmark natural history co-productions with the BBC, including “Planet Earth II.” They are among those affected by travel bans in place for parts of China following the coronavirus outbreak, whose death toll has now surpassed that of SARS.

Other Chinese companies that are generally mainstays at Showcase include digital players such as Youku and iQiyi, as well as broadcasters CCTV and Hunan TV.

A BBC studios spokesperson told Variety: “Following the decision of a number of airlines to suspend flights to and from mainland China on safety grounds, our Beijing team have elected not to travel to Showcase. Given that the team won’t be there to host them we have recommended clients based in China do not undertake non-essential travel. Instead we are making alternative arrangements to bring our content to these customers. The welfare of our staff and clients is our priority.”

BBC Studios has added that Chinese deals are not believed to be at risk as a result.

The absence of Chinese buyers at the wider U.K. Screenings events, however, will be felt by international distributors. The BBC Studios Showcase is the primary draw for global buyers, but in recent years, distributors such as Fremantle, ITV Studios and Entertainment One have established their own events around Showcase, which have been so successful that a number of companies no longer feel the need to send large sales contingents to MIPTV in April.

The trickle-down effect of missing buyers will undoubtedly impact other deal-making set to take place across next week, but could be beneficial to MIPTV in April, provided the virus is contained and travel bans for China have been lifted by the spring.

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