You moved from Western Europe to Asia over a year ago. How are the challenges and opportunities for BBC as a network in both?
I’ve been managing the Asia business for 18 months now. It is difficult to talk about Asia as one market because every country is different. Certainly in Asia the demand for our content is on a different scale than Europe. Asia has developed hugely local content for TV channels and digital platforms. We see the same in China, Korea and especially in India.
We have managed to have a lot of successes. Our business here is structured fairly equally between our own branded business, TV licensing business and production.
We’ve had a lot of success in India with production. We’re now regarded as one of the go-to production houses for quality entertainment and fiction. That taps into our strategy of trying to adapt our content for the local market. In the rest of Asia on production, we are more in the format licensing business. In the last year, we’ve got Dancing with the Stars in China and Korea. So, that’s a growing business for us.
In terms of TV licensing, our content, particularly our factual content, really resonates with the audience. Asia is going through a real transition to digital. So we’re seeing a lot of new entrants in the OTT platform looking for content that can differentiate them.
Just last week we announced that we will be launching BBC Earth in the Asian market in October. The first year for me was more about consolidation, slightly restructuring the team, making sure we’re in a position to grow. This second year is about starting to introduce new initiatives.
How different are the regions with it comes to piracy? How does Asia compare on yield or ARPV (average revenue per viewer)?
Piracy is a global phenomenon. Certainly in Asia, it is talked about a lot. As content producers or distributors, we have a role to play. People go to pirate sites because they can’t find the content in any legal way. Where there is a very identifiable site that is taking our content and distributing illegally, we will use whatever means we have to go after them and we’re doing that on a case by case basis. The trouble with it is that you shut down one and another one pops up. And then you also have to work with the local jurisdiction and every country has different rules, regulations and laws.
In the UK, now there’s an actual police force that looks at pirate sites and that has come about due to pressure from content and IP owners. In certain Asian markets, it hasn’t reached that point yet. They’ll reach that stage when you have local producers that work to protect their content. Another thing we have to do is make sure that the content people want is available as soon as it is originally screened in the UK. When we launch BBC Earth in Asia, we will be sharing our line up of content within 24 hours of the UK to ensure that people have a legitimate way of consuming content.
You’ve got developed markets in Asia where there is a quite high ARPV and then you have very low ones. There are markets in Asia that are really at the beginning of the journey so there is a very small amount of revenue that you get per viewer. What’s interesting about Asia for international companies like us is obviously the size. India with 1.2 billion people, China is big, Indonesia being the fourth largest country in the world... and they are on growth trajectories that are on a completely different scale to that of Europe. There are lots of opportunities but we have to be mindful that the media industry is changing and it has probably changed more in the last 10 to 15 years than it has ever changed before. You just have to make sure that you’re positioned well for whichever direction things move in.
That’s where we’re fairly unique in that we have a secure pipeline of new content that comes out every year; we’re investing more and more money on that. We have a channels business, digital business, our ancillary businesses, they’re making sure we’re well positioned to face all the challenges that are happening in our industry.
How is the local content in Asia growing for BBC? And India?
For the last seven years we’ve had a production business in India. There are three strands with how we make our content here.
One, we adapt our formats and again we have our ongoing pipeline of new formats that come out of the UK. And some of the adaptations are not just copies of the original. Jhalak is a very good example where we can see that it has really been adapted for Indian tastes.
Two, once you’ve built that business around your format business you start to develop uniquely original local programmes. Here, we have a very strong fiction slate, documentary slate and other shows like scripted reality that we are now innovating around.
The third is branded content – talking to brands and clients to make content of a certain quality.
This has worked very well.
In markets where we don’t have our own production houses, we do different things – we’re licensing formats to partners.
I am keen to look at other partnerships in other markets where we can do a hybrid between just format licensing and full production as the latter requires time and investment and some of the markets aren’t necessarily right for that.
You have noted that many Asian markets are now getting into OTT. What scope do you see for BBC as a network?
It is difficult to talk about the whole region because certainly Korea, Japan are more developed in terms of OTT. It is growing massively just in the 18 months that I have been here... it was less on the agenda but now it is on everybody’s mind.
There are certain challenges about streaming video in certain markets given speeds etc. Such issues will be overcome but it is consumer behavior that is driving it. Consumers demand to be able to watch content when they want on the device that they want in different areas and not to be attached to a single screen. And we as content producers have to be open to that. There are a number of players moving into the market with expertise from outside Asia which just makes it a vibrant opportunity for us.
Initially, in terms of OTT, our licensing business has worked well. We can supply a wide range of content and OTT being a different channel has an insatiable appetite for volume. The volume for OTT services are much greater than a linear channel could ever have. That provides great opportunities and we’re talking about having arrangements with different players.
Also, we’re looking at the branded space and what we could do with our services in digital. It is something we’re not ready to develop but we would like to get there, where we can start to provide some of our brands on the digital service.
Do you see OTT for you driven by news, more than other genres in India?
News is definitely the most known brand. That is how most of our consumers connect with the BBC. (But) the one thing about the BBC is that we have the whole range. We make content across every genre. That is certainly something that OTT opens up more for us.
Having said that, it is going to be transformational in India in the next year to 18 months. Hotstar and Sony Liv have come into the market, and there may be other global players entering. We would’ve worked with them in other markets and they know that our content really resonates. Once this starts happening you find an ecosystem. You need those big players to come in.
A lot of people start off but it takes investment and it takes marketing. If you don’t have a brand that resonates then it is quite hard to maintain. The global players know how it works, know how to market it and they know that the consumer wants to be able to find the content but we want to make it easy. You need to have simplicity in the service you provide.
Do you see scope for more launches (on OTT)? More genres?
OTT for us firstly is a licensing opportunity and there are a number of big brands coming in to aggregate content and we want to be part of that business. Whether OTT is a way to reach consumers with a single brand or channel, we don’t know yet. Linear TV is nowhere near dead. It is a really robust business and it is going to be there for years.
People have to understand that when you look at markets that are ahead of India... like US, certain parts of Europe, viewing has gone up considerably. So there hasn’t been that kind of cannibalisation that people have talked about.
People just have different mood states and different opportunities to view which means that the pie is growing and one hasn’t replaced the other.
We really respect consumers. If you make content available, often they will find it. Something about OTT, which is a big differentiator, is that usually there’s no cap on volume therefore you can be more experimental -- because you’re not having to drive ratings on a single slot on a linear channel. With OTT you get real, direct, live data about what people like and what they don’t, which is fairly unique, which is much better that what you do from traditional measurements around linear TV.
To be updated.
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