BBC America's Debut: Deal with Discovery
March 20th, 1998, the British Broadcasting Corporation finalized an eighteen months long contract negotiation with Discovery to expend its international market. Anticipating the world of television to enter a more digital industry, the BBC made a 565 million agreement with the American broadcaster (nyt), to “position BBC more squarely on the international stage” (guardian). As a result of the agreement, BBC now owned an American cable channel: BBC America.
The deal, which launched BBC America nine days later in the US, was one of “unprecedented scope and complexity” (variety) due to the BBC’s strict restrictions in commercials operations (NYT). More than 60 documents were signed to complete the agreement. The BBC would be the sole owner of BBC America and the British corporation would have editorial control over their channel. On the other hand, Discovery would acquired the channel’s marketing rights. With this deal, the BBC offered American cable subscribers a channel of British sitcoms, dramas and 2-hours daily news broadcasts (lat).
The owner of BBC America assured that the channel’s values would not to be Americanized despite U.S. financing. (variety) The deal showed an interesting distribution of the money. Discovery would have to spend 100 millions dollars to start BBC America, 175 millions in the co-production of documentaries, and an additional 390 millions to the development of other international channels. Among these channel were Animal Planet, BBC Canada, People&Arts, and so forth.
BBC America, available in 68 millions home (BBC America Press), is still as of today owned entirely by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC counts many television channels funded by the UK’s television license fee, which includes four BBC channels, an additional HD channel, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News Channel and BBC Parliament. In addition, the BBC worldwide branch also has commercial TV channels: Animal Planet (partially with Discovery), BBC Canada, BBC Entertainment, BBC Kids (Canada), BBC Knowledge, BBC Lifestyle, BBC Worlds News, People+Arts and BBC Australia. (bbc international TV Channels)
Audience and Branding
BBC America offers a wide range of both old and contemporary British programming from a variety of genres consisting of drama, lifestyle, news and comedy. Hit shows include documentaries, such as You are what you Eat, sitcoms such as Peep Show, and reality television shows, such as Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. BBC America also airs broadcast journalism from one of its partner channels, BBC World News and more recently, in addition to broadcasting British films, has stretched to include such American cult- classics as Die Hard with a Vengeance in its evening line- up. As this diverse list suggests, BBC America caters to a variety of different audiences -with age groups ranging from 18 to 55 plus, and a median audience age of 37- rather than targeting a specific target audience. However, unlike its UK counter- part, BBC America does not air children’s programming and instead sticks to the more adult picks from the UK line- up.
While BBC America’s audience may not be defined by a certain age or gender, research carried out by the channel defines some of its specific characteristics. Senior Vice President Mark Gall describes his audience as “…from around the world…up-scale”, people who “have a very similar mind-set of what's important to [them]” and most importantly for advertisers, “early adopters to new stuff”. In response to this research, BBC America shifted its focus to incorporate the channel more deeply into the digital era. Its prominent Internet website, for example, now allows viewers to access the playlists from their favorite shows. The UK BBC’s online player, which provides full access to its digital library, also positively benefits BBC America. The website grants American viewers a platform upon which to familiarize themselves with British programming. This generates new demand for BBC America entertainment. The channel also reinforces brand- image by association while audiences are away from the television. Audiences follow the extremely popular BBC News website throughout the day, encouraging them to return in the evening to a line-up of BBC America entertainment.
BBC America also uses its parent channel, BBC UK, to help with scheduling techniques. Because BBC America broadcasts both unique entertainment programming from the UK and broadcast journalism -a highly competitive field- its use of “lead- ins” largely determine its success. Each week day evening at 5pm, its popular program Doctor Who followed by Top Gear air directly before BBC News America. The channel uses its competitive and edgy shows to maximize flow for its less distinctive programming. Airing reruns of BBC’s hit shows (Top Gear, Star- Trek) in the early morning and late night present another possibility of increasing revenue due to the low costs of production involved.
BBC America’s unique international content has provided a major form of publicity in a final, perhaps unexpected, way. “Idea- sharing”, in the form of reworking British television hits into Americanized versions, such as NBC’s The Office: an American Workpla'ce, supplies an abundance of free publicity for BBC America. Each time a journalist writes an article on an Americanized, show the words “based on BBC America’s [original show name]…” provide highly effective media attention for the channel.