BBC Studios has some way to go in resuming production following the global pandemic, with only around 60% of productions back on track in the U.K. and some natural history series still in limbo.
Tom Fussell, interim CEO of the producer-distributor, tells Variety that shows such as soap “EastEnders” and automotive program “Top Gear” are back in production in the U.K. while 75% of international programs have now resumed. Around 40% of U.K. dramas and natural history shows requiring travel, however, are still up in the air due to travel restrictions.
“With natural history, it’s difficult to work the way they used to, so we’ve had to pause to try and figure out how to do it,” said Fussell, who is leading the business temporarily until a replacement is found for former BBC Studios boss Tim Davie, who joined the BBC as director general earlier this month.
The executive says the “seasonality” of the natural world further complicates production, meaning that an already delayed travel schedule could be pushed back even further.
At February’s Showcase event in Liverpool — when BBC Studios traditionally trots out its new productions to global buyers in a bid to secure financing via pre-sales — natural history shows such as Silverback Films’ “A Perfect Planet” and the new season of John Downer Productions’ “Spy in the Wild” were among the titles on offer, representing a particularly strong year for factual shows.
The full effects of COVID-19 on BBC Studios, however, will be felt only in the 2020/2021 results, although Fussell — who most recently served as CFO for BBC Studios — says the pandemic and its early cancellation and delivery costs back in March did see a £8 million-£9 million ($10 million-$11 million) hit on profits in this recent financial year.
Overall, BBC Studios reported a strong 2019/2020 financial year in its results on Tuesday, which covered the year up to March 30. Sales were up 17% to a record £1.4 billion ($1.8 billion), while profits were up by 14% to £181 million ($233 million). Meanwhile, returns to the BBC were a record £276 million ($355 million), up 14% year on year.
The growth reflected strong demand for programs such as “Top Gear,” “Doctor Who” and children’s program “Bluey,” while other standouts included “A Suitable Boy,” which the BBC placed with Netflix outside North America. BBC Studios also highlighted its partnerships with HBO Max, Germany’s ZDF and Russia’s Yandex. As reported by Variety last month, the distributor is leaning aggressively into relationships with the streamers, including Discovery’s forthcoming SVOD platform.
In its results, BBC Studios also said it plans to build on the success of British content-led SVOD service BritBox internationally and UKTV, as well as evolve global channel brands such as BBC Earth and CBeebies.